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St.  Francis  Preaching  to  the  Birds. 
Attributed  to  Giotto 




Author  of  "The  Life  of  Mammals,"  "Nature's  Calendar,' 

"The  Wit  of  the  Wild,"  etc.:  and  Secretary 

of  the  Authors  Club,  New  York 


55    FIFTH    AVENUE,    NEW    YORK 


Copyright,  1923,  by 


X  3  -  9  3  5  S  6    -i-'  - 




I.  A  Chat  with  the  Intending  Reader     ...      3 
II.  Birds  as  National  Emblems 28 

III.  An  Ornithological  Comedy  of  Errors       .     .     51 

IV.  The  Folklore  of  Bird  Migration    .     .     .     .81 
V.  Noah's  Messengers 98 

VI.  Birds  in  Christian  Tradition  and  Festival    .   109 

VII.  Birds  as  Symbols  and  Badges 127 

VIII.  Black  Feathers  make  Black  Birds       .      .      .154 

IX.  The  Familiar  of  Witches 179 

X.  A  Flock  of  Fabulous  Fowls 191 

XL  From  Ancient  Auguries  to   Modern  Rain- 
birds     212 

XII.  A  Primitive  View  of  the  Origin  of  Species    .  226 

XIII.  Birds  and  the  Lightning 242 

XIV.  Legends  in  an  Historical  Setting  .      .     .      .253 
XV.  Some  Pretty  Indian  Stories 270 

List  of  Books  Referred  to 282 

Index 287 




Angus  Mac-ind-oc  was  the  Cupid  of  the  Gaels.  He  was  a  harper 
of  the  sweetest  music,  and  was  attended  by  birds,  his  own  trans- 
formed kisses,  which  hovered,  invisible,  over  young  men  and 
maidens  of  Erin,  whispering  love  into  their  ears. 

WHEN  we  say,  "A  little  bird  told  me,"  we  are 
talking  legend  and  folklore  and  superstition  all 
at  once.  There  is  an  old  Basque  story  of  a  bird 
— always  a  small  one  in  these  tales — that  tells  the  truth ; 
and  our  Biloxi  Indians  used  to  say  the  same  of  the 
hummingbird.  Breton  peasants  still  credit  all  birds  with 
the  power  of  using  human  language  on  proper  occasions, 
and  traditions  in  all  parts  of  the  world  agree  that  every 
bird  had  this  power  once  on  a  time  if  not  now.  The 
fireside-tales  of  the  nomads  of  Oriental  deserts  or  of 
North  American  plains  and  forest  alike  attest  faith  in 
this  power ;  and  conversation  by  and  with  birds  is  almost 
the  main  stock  of  the  stories  heard  on  our  Southern  cot- 
ton-plantations. You  will  perhaps  recall  the  bulbul 
bazar  of  the  Arabian  Nights,  and,  if  you  please,  you  may 
read  in  another  chapter  of  the  conversational  pewit  and 
hoopoe  of  Solomonic  fame. 

Biblical    authority    exists    in   the   confidence   of    the 


Prophet  Elijah  that  a  "bird  of  the  air  .  .  .  shall  tell  the 
matter";  and  monkish  traditions  abound  in  revelations 
whispered  in  the  ear  of  the  faithful  by  winged  mes- 
sengers from  divine  sources,  as  you  may  read  further 
along  if  you  have  patience  to  turn  the  leaves.  The  poets 
keep  alive  the  pretty  fiction;  and  the  rest  of  us  resort 
to  the  phrase  with  an  arch  smile  whenever  we  do  not  care 
to  quote  our  authority  for  repeating  some  half-secret  bit 
of  gossip.  "This  magical  power  of  understanding  bird- 
talk,"  says  Halliday,1  *  "is  regularly  the  way  in  which  the 
seers  of  myths  obtain  their  information." 

Primitive  men — and  those  we  style  the  Ancients  were 
primitive  so  far  as  nature  is  concerned — regarded  birds 
as  supernaturally  wise.  This  canniness  is  implied  in 
many  of  the  narratives  and  incidents  set  down  in  the 
succeeding  pages;  and  in  view  of  it  birds  came  to  be 
regarded  by  early  man  with  great  respect,  yet  also  with 
apprehension,  for  they  might  utilize  their  knowledge  to 
his  harm.  For  example:  The  Canada  jay  is  believed 
by  the  Indians  along  the  northern  shore  of  Hudson  Bay 
to  give  warning  whenever  they  approach  an  Eskimo  camp 
— usually,  of  course,  with  hostile  intent;  and  naturally 
those  Indians  kill  that  kind  of  jay  whenever  they  can. 

The  ability  in  birds  to  speak  implies  knowledge,  and 
Martha  Young 2  gives  us  a  view  of  this  logic  prevailing 
among  the  old-time  southern  darkies: 

♦This  and  similar  "superior"  figures  throughout  the  text  refer 
to  the  List  of  Books  in  the  Appendix,  where  the  author  and 
title  of  the  publication  alluded  to  will  be  found  under  its  number. 

The  author  takes  this  opportunity,  in  place  of  a  perfunctory 
Preface,  to  make  grateful  acknowledgment  of  assistance  to  Pro- 
fessor A.  V.  H.  Jackson,  who  revised  the  chapter  on  fabulous  birds ; 
to  Mr.  Stewart  Culin,  helpful  in  Chinese  matters,  etc.;  to  Pro- 
fessor Justin  H.  Smith,  who  scanned  the  whole  manuscript;  and 
to  others  who  furnished  valuable  facts  and  suggestions. 


Sis'  Dove  she  know  mo'n  anybody  or  anything  in  de  worl'. 
She  know  pintedly  de  time  anybody  gwine  die.  You'll  hear 
her  moanin'  fer  a  passin'  soul  'fo'  you  hear  de  bell  tone. 
She  know  'fo'  cotton-plantin'  time  whe'r  de  craps  dat  gatherin' 
'11  be  good  er  bad.  To'  folks  breaks  up  de  new  groun'  er 
bust  out  middles,  Sis'  Dove  know  what  de  yield  '11  be.  She 
know  it  an'  she'll  tell  it,  too.  'Caze  ev'ybody  know  if 
Sis'  Dove  coo  on  de  right  han'  of  a  man  plowin',  dare  '11  be 
a  good  crap  dat  year;  but  ef  she  coo  on  de  lef  dar  '11  be  a 
faillery  crap  dat  year. 

Sis'  Dove  she  know  about  all  de  craps  dat  grow  out  er  de 
groun'  but  she  'special  know  about  corn,  fer  she  plant  de  fi'st 
grain  er  corn  dat  ever  was  plant'  in  de  whole  worl\  Whar 
she  git  it  ?  .  .  .  Umm — hum !    You  tell  me  dat ! 

From  the  belief  in  the  intuitive  wisdom  of  birds  comes 
the  world-wide  confidence  in  their  prophetic  power. 
Hence  their  actions,  often  so  mysterious,  have  been 
watched  with  intense  interest,  and  everything  unusual 
in  their  behavior  was  noticed  in  the  hope  that  it  might 
express  a  revelation  from  on  high.  Advantage  was  taken 
of  this  pathetic  hope  and  assurance  by  the  Roman  augurs 
in  their  legalized  ornithomancy,  of  which  some  descrip- 
tion will  be  found  in  another  chapter.  Nine-tenths  of  it 
was  priestly  humbug  to  keep  ordinary  folks  in  mental 
subjection,  as  priestcraft  has  ever  sought  to  do.  The 
remaining  tenth  has  become  the  basis  of  the  present 
popular  faith  in  birds'  ability  to  foretell  coming  weather. 
Let  me  cite  a  few  aboriginal  examples  of  this  faith, 
more  or  less  sincere,  in  the  ability  and  willingness  of 
birds  to  warn  inquiring  humanity. 

The  Omahas  and  other  Siouan  Indians  used  to  say 
that  when  whippoorwills  sing  at  night,  saying  "Hoia, 
hohin?"  one  replies  "No."  If  the  birds  stop  at  once,  it  is 
a  sign  that  the  answerer  will  soon  die,  but  if  the  birds 
keep  on  calling  he  or  she  will  live  a  long  time.  The 
Utes  of  Colorado,  however,  declare  that  this  bird  is  the 


god  of  the  night,  and  that  it  made  the  moon  by  magic, 
transforming  a  frog  into  it;  while  the  Iroquois  indulged 
in  the  pretty  fancy  that  the  moccasin-flowers  (cypri- 
pediums)  are  whippoorwills'  shoes. 

This  is  a  little  astray  from  my  present  theme,  to  which 
we  may  return  by  quoting  from  Waterton73  that  if  one 
of  the  related  goatsuckers  of  the  Amazon  Valley  be  heard 
close  to  an  Indian's  or  a  negro's  hut,  from  that  night 
evil  fortune  sits  brooding  over  it.  In  Costa  Rica  bones 
of  whippoorwills  are  dried  and  ground  to  a  fine  powder 
by  the  Indians  when  they  want  to  concoct  a  charm  against 
some  enemy ;  mixed  with  tobacco  it  will  form  a  cigarette 
believed  to  cause  certain  death  to  the  person  smoking  it. 

To  the  mountaineers  of  the  southern  Alleghanies  the 
whippoorwill  reveals  how  long  it  will  be  before  marriage 
— as  many  years  as  its  notes  are  repeated:  as  I  have 
heard  the  bird  reiterate  its  cry  more  than  800  times  with- 
out taking  breath,  this  must  often  be  a  discouraging  re- 
port to  an  anxious  maid  or  bachelor.  One  often  hears  it 
said  lightly  in  New  England  that  a  whippoorwill  calling 
very  near  a  house  portends  death,  but  I  can  get  no  evi- 
dence that  this  "sign"  is  really  attended  to  anywhere  in  the 
northern  United  States. 

This,  and  the  equally  nocturnal  screechowl   (against 

which  the  darkies  have  many  "conjurings")  are  not  the 

only  birds  feared  by  rural  folk  in  the  Southern  States, 

especially  in  the  mountains.     A  child  in  a   family  of 

Georgia  "crackers"   fell  ill,   and  his  mother  gave  this 

account  of  it  to  a  sympathetic  friend: 

Mikey  is  bound  to  die.  I've  know'd  it  all  along.  All  las' 
week  the  moanin'  doves  was  comin  roun'  the  house,  and  this 
mornin'  one  come  in  at  the  window  right  by  Mikey's  head,  an' 
cooed  an'  moaned.  I  couldn't  scare  it  away,  else  a  witch  would 
'a'  put  a  spell  on  me. 


Mikey  lived  to  become  a  drunkard,  is  the  unfeeling  com- 
ment of  the  reporter  of  this  touching  incident  in  The 
Journal  of  American  Folklore. 

"One  constantly  hears  by  day  the  note  of  the  limocon, 
a  wood-pigeon  which  exercises  a  most  extraordinary 
interest  over  the  lives  of  many  of  the  wild  people,  for 
they  believe  that  the  direction  and  nature  of  its  notes 
augur  good  or  ill  for  the  enterprises  they  have  in  hand." 
This  memorandum,  in  Dean  Worcester's  valuable  book 
on  the  Philippines,3  is  apt  to  the  purpose  of  this  intro- 
ductory chapter,  leading  me  to  say  that  the  continuing 
reader  will  find  doves  (which  are  much  the  same  in  all 
parts  of  the  world)  conspicuous  in  legend,  fable  and 
ceremony;  also  that  the  "direction  and  nature"  of  their 
voices,  as  heard,  is  one  of  the  most  important  elements 
in  the  consideration  of  birds  in  general  as  messengers 
and  prophets — functions  to  which  I  shall  often  have  oc- 
casion to  refer,  and  on  which  are  founded  the  ancient 
systems  of  bird-divination. 

In  these  United  States  little  superstition  relating  to 
animals  has  survived,  partly  because  the  wild  creatures 
here  were  strange  to  the  pioneers,  who  were  poorly  ac- 
quainted with  their  characteristics,  but  mainly  because 
such  fears  and  fancies  were  left  in  the  Old  World  with 
other  rubbish  not  worth  the  freight-charges;  yet  a  few 
quaint  notions  came  along,  like  small  heirlooms  of  no 
particular  value  that  folks  dislike  to  throw  away  until 
they  must.  Almost  all  such  mental  keepsakes  belong  to 
people  in  the  backward  parts  of  the  country,  often  with 
an  ill-fitting  application  to  local  birds.  A  conspicuous 
disappearance  is  that  venerable  body  of  forebodings  and 
fancies  attached  to  the  European  cuckoo,  totally  unknown 
or  disregarded  here,  because  our  American  cuckoos  have 


no  such  irregular  habits  as  gave  rise  to  the  myths  and 
superstitions  clustering  about  that  bird  in  Europe. 

We  saw  a  moment  ago  that  the  negro  farmer  estimated 
what  the  yield  of  his  field  would  be  by  the  direction  from 
which  the  dove's  message  came  to  his  ears.  I  have  an- 
other note  that  if  one  hears  the  first  mourning-dove  of 
the  year  above  him  he  will  prosper:  if  from  below  him 
his  own  course  henceforth  will  be  down  hill. 

This  matter  of  direction  whence  (and  also  of  number) 
is  of  vital  importance  in  interpreting  bird-prophecy  the 
world  over,  as  will  be  fully  shown  in  a  subsequent 
chapter.  Even  in  parts  of  New  England  it  is  counted 
"unlucky"  to  see  two  crows  together  flying  toward  the 
left — a  plain  borrowing  from  the  magpie-lore  of  Old 
England.  In  the  South  it  is  thought  that  if  two  quails 
fly  up  in  front  of  a  man  on  the  way  to  conclude  a  bargain 
he  will  do  well  to  abandon  the  intended  business.  Break 
up  a  killdeer's  nest  and  you  will  soon  break  a  leg  or  arm 
— and  so  on. 

There  always  have  been  persons  who  were  much  dis- 
turbed when  a  bird  fluttered  against  a  closed  window. 
A  rooster  crowing  into  an  open  house-door  foretells  a 
visitor.  The  plantation  darkies  of  our  Southern  States 
believe  that  when  shy  forest-birds  come  close  about  a 
dwelling  as  if  frightened,  or,  wandering  within  it,  beat 
their  wings  wildly  in  search  of  an  exit,  so  some  soul  will 
flutteringly  seek  escape  from  that  house — and  "right 
soon."  Similar  fears  afflict  the  timid  on  the  other  side 
of  the  globe.  On  the  contrary,  and  more  naturally,  it  is 
esteemed  among  us  an  excellent  omen  when  wild  birds 
nest  fearlessly  about  a  negro's  or  a  mountaineer's  cabin. 

When  a  Georgia  girl  first  hears  in  the  spring  the  plain- 
tive call  of  returning  doves  she  must  immediately  attend 


to  it  if  she  is  curious  as  to  her  future  partner  in  life. 
She  must  at  once  take  nine  steps  forward  and  nine  back- 
ward, then  take  off  her  right  shoe:  in  it  she  will  discover 
a  hair  of  the  man  she  is  to  marry — but  how  to  find  its 
owner  is  not  explained !  This  bit  of  rustic  divination  is 
plainly  transferred  from  the  old  English  formula  toward 
the  first-heard  cuckoo,  as  may  be  learned  from  Gay's 
The  Sheperd's  Week,8  which  is  a  treasury  of  rustic  cus- 
toms in  Britain  long  ago.    Says  one  of  the  maids : 

Then  doff'd  my  shoe,  and  by  my  troth  I  swear, 
Therein  I  spy'd  this  yellow,  frizzled  hair. 

This  matter  of  the  hair  is  pure  superstition  allied  to 
magic,  in  practicing  which,  indeed,  birds  have  often  been 
degraded  to  an  evil  service  very  remote  from  their  nature. 
Thiselton  Dyer  quotes  an  Irish  notion  that  "in  every- 
one's head  there  is  a  particular  hair  which,  if  the  swallow 
can  pluck  it,  dooms  the  wretched  individual  to  eternal 
perdition."  A  Baltimore  folklorist  warns  every  lady 
against  letting  birds  build  nests  with  the  combings  of 
her  hair,  as  it  will  turn  the  unfortunate  woman  crazy. 
Any  woman  afraid  of  this  should  beware  of  that  dear 
little  sprite  of  our  garden  shrubbery,  the  chipping-spar- 
row,  for  it  always  lines  its  tiny  nest  with  hair.  This 
notion  is  another  importation,  for  it  has  long  been  a 
saying  in  Europe  that  if  a  bird  uses  human  hair  in  its 
nest  the  owner  of  the  hair  will  have  headaches  and  later 
baldness.  Curiously  enough  the  Seneca  Indians,  one  of 
the  five  Iroquois  tribes,  are  said  to  have  long  practised 
a  means,  as  they  believed  it  to  be,  of  communicating  with 
a  maiden-relative,  after  her  death,  by  capturing  a  fledg- 
ling bird  with  a  noose  made  from  her  hair.  The  bird 
was  kept  caged  until  it  began  to  sing,  when  it  was  libe- 


rated  and  was  believed  to  carry  to  the  knowledge  of  the 
departed  one  a  whispered  message  of  love. 

Now  the  idea  underlying  all  this  faith  in  the  super- 
natural wisdom  and  prophetic  gift  in  birds  is  the  general 
supposition  that  they  are  spirits,  or,  at  any  rate,  possessed 
by  spirits,  a  doctrine  that  appears  in  various  guises  but  is 
universal  in  the  world  of  primitive  culture — a  world 
nearer  to  us  sophisticated  readers  than  perhaps  we 
realize:  but  a  good  many  little  children  inhabit  it,  even 
within  our  doors. 

"The  primitive  mind,,,  as  Dr.  Brinton  asserts,  "did  not 
recognize  any  deep  distinction  between  the  lower  animals 
and  man";  and  continues: 

The  savage  knew  that  the  beast  was  his  superior  in  many 
points,  in  craft  and  in  strength,  in  fleetness  and  intuition,  and  he 
regarded  it  with  respect.  To  him  the  brute  had  a  soul  not  in- 
ferior to  his  own,  and  a  language  which  the  wise  among  men 
might  on  occasion  learn.  .  .  .  Therefore  with  wide  unanimity 
he  placed  certain  species  of  animals  nearer  to  God  than  is  man 
himself,  or  even  identified  them  with  the  manifestations  of  the 

None  was  in  this  respect  a  greater  favorite  than  the  bird. 
Its  soaring  flight,  its  strange  or  sweet  notes,  the  marked  hues 
of  its  plumage,  combined  to  render  it  a  fit  emblem  of  power 
and  beauty.  The  Dyaks  of  Borneo  trace  their  descent  to 
Singalang  Burong,  the  god  of  birds;  and  birds  as  the  ancestors 
of  the  totemic  family  are  extremely  common  among  the 
American  Indians.  The  Eskimos  say  that  they  have  the  faculty 
of  soul  or  life  beyond  all  other  creatures,  and  in  most  primitive 
tribes  they  have  been  regarded  as  the  messengers  of  the  divine, 
and  the  special  purveyors  of  the  vital  principles  .  .  .  and  every- 
where to  be  able  to  understand  the  language  of  birds  was 
equivalent  to  being  able  to  converse  with  the  gods.4 

If  this  is  true  it  is  not  surprising  that  savages  in  various 
parts  of  the  world  trace  their  tribal  origin  to  a  super- 
natural bird  of  the  same  form  and  name  as  some  familiar 


local  species,  which  was  inhabited  by  the  soul  of  their 
heroic  "first  man."  The  Osage  Indians  of  Kansas,  for 
example,  say  that  as  far  back  as  they  can  conceive  of 
time  their  ancestors  were  alive,  but  had  neither  bodies 
nor  souls.  They  existed  beneath  the  lowest  of  the  four 
"upper  worlds/'  and  at  last  migrated  to  the  highest,  where 
they  obtained  souls.  Then  followed  travels  in  which  they 
searched  for  some  source  whence  they  might  get  human 
bodies,  and  at  last  asked  the  question  of  a  redbird  sitting 
on  her  nest.  She  replied:  "I  can  cause  your  children  to 
have  human  bodies  from  my  own."  She  explained  that 
her  wings  would  be  their  arms,  her  head  their  head,  and 
so  on  through  a  long  list  of  parts,  external  and  internal, 
showing  herself  a  good  comparative  anatomist.  Finally 
she  declared:  "The  speech  (or  breath)  of  children  will 
I  bestow  on  your  children."  5 

Such  is  the  story  of  how  humanity  reached  the  earth, 
according  to  one  branch  of  the  Osages :  other  gentes 
also  believe  themselves  descended  from  birds  that  came 
down  from  an  upper  world.  Dozens  of  similar  cases 
might  be  quoted,  of  which  I  will  select  one  because  of  its 
curious  features.  The  Seri,  an  exclusive  and  backward 
tribe  inhabiting  the  desert-like  island  Tiburon,  in  the  Gulf 
of  California,  ascribe  the  creation  of  the  world,  and  of 
themselves  in  particular,  to  the  Ancient  of  Pelicans,  a 
mythical  fowl  of  supernal  wisdom  and  melodious  song — 
an  unexpected  poetic  touch! — who  first  raised  the  earth 
above  the  primeval  waters.  This  laf;  point  is  in  con- 
formity with  the  general  belief  that  a  waste  of  waters 
preceded  the  appearance,  by  one  or  another  miraculous 
means  well  within  the  redman's  range  of  experience,  of 
a  bit  of  land;  and  it  is  to  be  observed  that  this  original 
patch  of  earth,  whether  fixed  or  floating,  was  enlarged 


to  habitable  dimensions  not  by  further  miracles,  nor  by 
natural  accretion,  but,  as  a  rule,  by  the  labor  and  in- 
genuity of  the  "first  men"  themselves,  usually  aided  by 
favorite  animals.  Thus  the  Seri  Indians  naturally  held 
the  pelican  in  especial  regard,  but  that  did  not  prevent 
their  utilizing  it  to  the  utmost.  Dr.  W  J  McGee 6  found 
that  one  of  their  customs  was  to  tie  a  broken-winged,  liv- 
ing pelican  to  a  stake  near  the  seashore,  and  then  appro- 
priate the  fishes  brought  to  the  captive  by  its  free 

In  fewer  cases  we  find  that  not  only  tribal  but  also 
individual  origin  is  ascribed  to  a  bird,  the  best  illustra- 
tion of  which  is  the  notion  of  the  natives  of  Perak,  in  the 
Malay  Peninsula,  that  a  bird  brings  the  soul  to  every 
person  at  birth.  A  woman  who  is  about  to  become  a 
mother  selects  as  the  place  where  her  baby  shall  be 
born  the  foot  of  a  certain  tree — any  one  that  appeals  to 
her  fancy — and  this  will  be  the  "name-tree"  of  her  child. 
The  parents  believe  that  a  soul  has  been  waiting  for  this 
child  in  the  form  of  a  bird  that  for  some  time  before 
the  birth  frequents  all  the  trees  of  the  chosen  kind  in 
that  vicinity,  searching  for  the  occasion  when  it  may  de- 
liver its  charge,  intrusted  to  it  by  Kari,  the  tribal  god. 
This  bird  must  be  killed  and  eaten  by  the  expectant 
mother  just  before  the  actual  birth  or  the  baby  will  never 
come  to  life,  or  if  it  does  will  speedily  die.  A  poetic 
feature  in  this  tender  explanation  of  the  mystery  of  life 
among  the  jungle-dwellers  is  that  the  souls  of  first-born 
children  are  brought  always  by  the  newly  hatched  off- 
spring of  the  bird  that  contained  the  soul  of  the  mother 
of  the  child.7 

Apart  from  this  singular  conception  of  the  source  of 
existence,  the  general  theory  of  spirituality  in  birds  is 


based,  as  heretofore  intimated,  on  the  almost  universal 
belief  that  they  are  often  the  visible  spirits  of  the  dead. 
The  Powhatans  of  Virginia,  for  example,  held  that  the 
feathered  race  received  the  souls  of  their  chiefs  at  death; 
and  a  California  tribe  asserted  that  the  small  birds  whose 
hard  luck  it  was  to  receive  the  souls  of  bad  men  were 
chased  and  destroyed  by  hawks,  so  that  those  of  good 
Indians  alone  reached  the  happy  hunting-grounds  beyond 
the  sky. 

James  G.  Swan  relates  in  his  interesting  old  book  about 
early  days  at  Puget  Sound, 10  that  the  Indians  at  Shoal- 
water  Bay,  Oregon,  were  much  disturbed  one  morning 
because  they  had  heard  the  whistling  of  a  plover  in  the 
night.  The  white  men  there  told  them  it  was  only  a 
bird's  crying,  but  they  insisted  the  noise  was  that  of 
spirits.  Said  they:  "Birds  don't  talk  in  the  night;  they 
talk  in  the  daytime."  "But,"  asked  Russell,  "how  can  you 
tell  that  it  is  the  memelose  tillicunis,  or  dead  people? 
They  can't  talk."  "No,"  replied  the  savage,  "it  is  true  they 
can't  talk  as  we  do,  but  they  whistle  through  their  teeth. 
You  are  a  white  man  and  do  not  understand  what  they 
say,  but  Indians  know." 

This  bit  of  untainted  savage  philosophy  recalls  the 
queer  British  superstition  of  the  Seven  Whistlers. 
Wordsworth,  who  was  a  North-countryman,  records  of 
his  ancient  Dalesman — 

He  the  seven  birds  hath  seen  that  never  part, 
Seen  the  Seven  Whistlers  on  their  nightly  rounds 
And  counted  them. 

The  idea  that  the  wailing  of  invisible  birds  is  a  warning 
of  danger  direct  from  Providence  prevails  especially  in 
the  English  colliery  districts,  where  wildfowl,  migrating 


at  night  and  calling  to  one  another  as  they  go,  supply 
exactly  the  right  suggestion  to  the  timid.  Sailors  fear 
them  as  "storm-bringers."  Even  more  horrifying  is  the 
primitive  Welsh  conception  (probably  capable  of  a  similar 
explanation)  of  the  Three  Birds  of  Rhiannon,  wife  of 
Pwyll,  ruler  of  Hades,  that  could  sing  the  dead  to  life 
and  the  living  into  the  sleep  of  death.  Luckily  they  were 
heard  only  at  the  death  of  great  heroes  in  battle. 

How  easily  such  things  may  beguile  the  imagination 
is  told  in  Thomas  W.  Higginson's  book  on  army  life  in 
the  black  regiment  of  which  he  was  the  colonel  during 
the  Civil  War.  This  sane  and  vigorous  young  officer 
writes  of  an  incident  on  the  South  Carolina  Coast:  "I 
remember  that,  as  I  stood  on  deck  in  the  still  and  misty 
evening,  listening  with  strained  senses  for  some  sound 
of  approach  of  an  expected  boat,  I  heard  a  low  con- 
tinuous noise  from  the  distance,  more  mild  and  desolate 
than  anything  my  memory  can  parallel.  It  came  from 
within  the  vast  circle  of  mist,  and  seemed  like  the  cry 
of  a  myriad  of  lost  souls  upon  the  horizon's  verge;  it 
was  Dante  become  audible:  yet  it  was  but  the  accumu- 
lated cries  of  innumerable  seafowl  at  the  entrance  of  the 
outer  bay."  9 

But  I  have  rambled  away  along  an  enticing  by-path, 
as  will  frequently  happen  in  the  remainder  of  this  book 
— to  the  reader's  interest,  I  venture  to  believe. 

Returning  to  the  theme  of  a  moment  ago,  I  recall  that 
the  Rev.  H.  Friend  lx  tells  us  that  he  has  seen  Buddhist 
priests  in  Canton  "bless  a  small  portion  of  their  rice,  and 
place  it  at  the  door  of  the  refectory  to  be  eaten  by  the 
birds  which  congregate  there."  These  offerings  are  to 
the  "house  spirits,"  by  which  the  Chinese  mean  the  spirits 
of  their  ancestors,  who  are  still  kindly  interested  in  the 


welfare  of  the  family.  This  is  real  ancestor-worship  ex- 
pressed in  birds ;  and  Spence  12  records  that  "the  shamans 
of  certain  tribes  of  Paraguay  act  as  go-betweens  between 
the  members  of  their  tribes  and  such  birds  as  they  imagine 
enshrine  the  souls  of  their  departed  relatives."  The 
heathen  Lombards  ornamented  their  grave-posts  with 
the  effigy  of  a  dove.  This  notion  of  birds  as  reincarnated 
human  souls  is  not  confined  to  untutored  minds  nor  to 
an  ancient  period.  Evidences  of  its  hold  on  the  human 
imagination  may  be  found  in  Europe  down  to  the  present 
day,  and  it  animates  one  of  the  most  picturesque  super- 
stitions of  pious  followers  of  Mahomet,  two  forms  of 
which  have  come  to  me.  The  first  is  given  by  Doughty,13 
the  second  by  Keane,14  both  excellent  authorities. 

Doughty  says:  "It  was  an  ancient  opinion  of  the 
idolatrous  Arabs  that  the  departing  spirit  flitted  from 
man's  brainpan  as  a  wandering  fowl,  complaining  thence- 
forward in  perpetual  thirst  her  unavenged  wrong; 
friends,  therefore,  to  avenge  the  friend's  soul-bird,  poured 
upon  the  grave  their  pious  libations  of  wine.  The  bird 
is  called  a  'green  fowl.'  " 

Quoting  Keane:  "It  is  a  superstition  among  the  Mo- 
hammedans that  the  spirits  of  martyrs  are  lodged  in  the 
crops  of  green  birds,  and  partake  of  the  fruit  and  drink 
of  the  rivers  of  paradise;  also  that  the  souls  of  the  good 
dwell  in  the  form  of  white  birds  near  the  throne  of  God." 

But  the  spirits  represented  in  birds  are  not  always 
ancestral  or  benevolent:  they  may  be  unpleasant,  fore- 
boding, demoniac.  The  Indians  and  negroes  along  the 
Amazons  will  not  destroy  goatsuckers.  Why?  Because 
they  are  receptacles  for  departed  human  souls  who  have 
come  back  to  earth  unable  to  rest  because  of  crimes  done 
in  their  former  bodies,  or  to  haunt  cruel  and  hard-hearted 

Z6  birds  in  legend 

masters.  In  Venezuela  and  Trinidad  the  groan-like  cries 
of  the  nocturnal,  cave-dwelling  guacharos  are  thought 
to  be  the  wailing  of  ghosts  compelled  to  stay  in  their 
caverns  in  order  to  expiate  their  sins.  Even  now,  the 
Turks  maintain  that  the  dusky  shearwaters  that  daily 
travel  in  mysterious  flocks  up  and  down  the  Bosphorus 
are  animated  by  condemned  human  souls. 

By  way  of  the  ancestral  traditions  sketched  above, 
arise  those  "sacred  animals"  constantly  mentioned  in 
accounts  of  ancient  or  backward  peoples.  Various  birds 
were  assigned  to  the  deities  and  heroes  of  Egyptian  and 
Pagan  mythology — the  eagle  to  Jove,  goose  and  later  the 
peacock  to  Juno,  the  little  owl  to  Minerva,  and  so  on ;  but 
to  call  these  companions  "sacred"  is  a  bad  use  of  the  term, 
for  there  was  little  or  nothing  consecrate  in  these  ascrip- 
tions, and  if  in  any  case  worship  was  addressed  to  the 
deity,  its  animal  companion  was  hardly  included  in  the 
reverential  thought  of  the  celebrant. 

It  is  conceivable  that  such  ascriptions  as  these  are  the 
refined  relics  of  earlier  superstitions  held  by  primitive 
folk  everywhere  in  regard  to  such  birds  of  their  territory 
as  appealed  to  their  imaginations  because  of  one  or  an- 
other notable  trait.  Ethnological  and  zoological  books 
abound  in  instances,  which  it  would  be  tedious  to  catalog, 
and  several  examples  appear  elsewhere  in  this  book.  A 
single,  rather  remarkable  one,  that  of  the  South  African 
ground-hornbill  or  bromvogel,  will  suffice  to  illustrate 
the  point  here.  I  choose,  among  several  available,  the 
account  given  by  Layard,15  one  of  the  early  naturalist- 
explorers  in  southern  Africa : 

The  Fingoes  seem  to  attach  some  superstitious  veneration  to 
the  ground-hornbills  and  object  to  their  being  shot  in  the 
neighborhood  of  their  dwellings,   lest  they   should  lose  their 


cattle  by  disease.  .  .  .  The  Kaffirs  have  a  superstition  that  if 
one  of  these  birds  is  killed  it  will  rain  for  a  long  time.  I  am 
told  that  in  time  of  drought  it  is  the  custom  to  take  one  alive, 
tie  a  stone  to  it,  then  throw  it  into  a  "vley";  after  that  a  rain  is 
supposed  to  follow.  They  avoid  using  the  water  in  which  this 
ceremony  has  been  performed.  .  .  .  Only  killed  in  time  of 
severe  drought,  when  one  is  killed  by  order  of  the  rain-doctor 
and  its  body  is  thrown  into  a  pool  in  a  river.  The  idea  is  that 
the  bird  has  so  offensive  a  smell  that  it  will  make  the  water 
sick,  and  that  the  only  way  of  getting  rid  of  this  is  to  wash  it 
away  to  the  sea,  which  can  only  be  done  by  a  heavy  rain. 

The  ground  where  they  feed  is  considered  good  for  cattle, 
and  in  settling  a  new  country  spots  frequented  by  these  birds 
are  chosen  by  the  wealthy  people.  Should  the  birds,  however, 
by  some  chance,  fly  over  a  cattle  kraal,  the  kraal  is  moved  to 
some  other  place.  ...  It  is  very  weak  on  the  wing,  and  when 
required  by  the  "doctor"  the  bird  is  caught  by  the  men  of  a 
number  of  kraals  turning  out  at  the  same  time,  and  a  particular 
bird  is  followed  from  one  hill  to  another  by  those  on  the  look- 
out. After  three  or  four  flights  it  can  be  run  down  and  caught 
by  a  good  runner.  .  .  .  The  Ovampos  [of  Damara  land]  seem 
to  have  a  superstition  [that  the  eggs  cannot  be  procured  because 
so  soft  that]  they  would  fall  to  pieces  on  the  least  handling. 

It  seems  to  me  likely  that  the  sense  of  service  to  men 
in  its  constant  killing  of  dreaded  snakes — birds  and  ser- 
pents are  linked  together  in  all  barbaric  religious  and 
social  myths — may  be  at  the  core  of  the  veneration  paid 
the  hornbill,  as,  apparently,  it  was  in  the  case  of  the 
Egyptian  ibis.  This  wader  was  not  only  a  foe  to  lizards 
and  small  snakes,  but,  as  it  always  appeared  in  the  Nile 
just  as  the  river  showed  signs  of  beginning  its  periodic 
overflow,  a  matter  of  anxious  concern  to  the  people,  it 
was  regarded  as  a  prescient  and  benevolent  creature  fore- 
telling the  longed-for  rise  of  the  water.  At  Hermopolis, 
situated  at  the  upper  end  of  the  great  fertile  plain  of 
the  lower  Nile,  the  ibis  was  incarnated  as  Thoth  (identi- 
fied by  the  Greeks  with  Hermes),  one  of  the  highest  gods 


of  the  ancient  Egyptians.  This  ibis,  and  other  incarnated 
animals,  originally  mere  symbols  of  lofty  ideas,  came  to 
be  reverenced  as  real  divinities  in  the  places  where  their 
cult  flourished  (although  they  might  enjoy  no  such  dis- 
tinction elsewhere),  were  given  divine  honors  when  they 
died,  and  were,  in  short,  real  gods  to  their  devotees ;  that  is 
to  say,  the  sophisticated  Egyptians  of  the  later  dynasties 
had  elevated  into  the  logical  semblance  of  divinity  this 
and  that  animal-fetish  of  their  uncultured  ancestors. 

Another  singular  case  of  a  bird  rising  to  the  eminence 
of  tutelary  deity  is  that  of  the  ruddy  sheldrake  (Casarca 
rutila)  or  Brahminy  duck  in  Thibet.  From  it  is  derived 
the  title  of  the  established  church  of  the  lamas  (practi- 
cally the  government  of  that  Buddhistic  country)  ;  and 
their  abbotts  wear  robes  of  the  sheldrake  colors.  In 
Burmah  the  Brahminy  duck  is  sacred  to  Buddhists  as  a 
symbol  of  devotion  and  fidelity,  and  it  was  figured  on 
Asoka's  pillars  in  this  emblematic  character.  This  shel- 
drake is  usually  found  in  pairs,  and  when  one  is  shot 
the  other  will  often  hover  near  until  it,  too,  falls  a  vic- 
tim to  its  conjugal  love.16 

A  stage  in  this  process  of  deification  is  given  by  Tylor 
in  describing  the  veneration  of  a  certain  bird  in  Poly- 
nesia, as  a  Tahitian  priest  explained  it  to  Dr.  Ellis,  the 
celebrated  missionary-student  of  the  South  Seas.  The 
priest  said  that  his  god  was  not  always  in  the  idol  repre- 
senting it.  "A  god,"  he  declared,  "often  came  to  and 
passed  from  an  image  in  the  body  of  a  bird,  and  spiritual 
influence  could  be  transmitted  from  an  idol  by  imparting 
it  by  contact  to  certain  valued  kinds  of  feathers. "  This 
bit  of  doctrine  helps  us  to  understand  what  Colonel  St. 
Johnston  has  to  tell  in  his  recent  thoughtful  book48  on  the 
ethnology  of  Polynesia,  of  the  special  use  of  the  feathers 


(mainly  red)  of  particular  birds  in  the  insignia  of  chiefs, 
and  in  religious  ceremonials;  and  he  comments  as 
follows : 

In  the  Samoa,  Fiji,  and  Tonga  groups  the  very  special  mats 
of  the  chiefs  were  edged  with  the  much-prized  red  feathers 
usually  obtained  with  great  difficulty  from  Taverni  Island. 
.  .  .  In  Tahiti  the  fan  was  associated  with  feathers  in  a  pe- 
culiar idea  of  sacredness,  and  feathers  given  out  by  the  priests 
at  the  temple  at  the  time  of  the  "Pa'e-atua"  ceremony  were  taken 
home  by  the  worshippers  and  tied  on  to  special  fans.  These 
beautiful  feathers  of  the  Pacific  were,  of  course,  prized  by  an 
artistic  people  for  their  colors  alone,  but  there  seems  to  have 
been  something  more  than  that,  something  particularly  con- 
nected with  a  divine  royalty.  In  Hawaii  the  kahili,  the  sceptre 
of  the  king,  was  surmounted  with  special  feathers.  The  royal 
cloaks  (as  in  Peru)  and  the  helmets  had  feathers  thickly  sewn 
on  them;  the  para-kura,  or  sacred  coronet  of  Tangier  was  made 
of  red  feathers;  and  the  Pa'e-atua  ceremony  that  I  have  just 
written  of  consisted  of  the  unwrapping  of  the  images  of  the 
gods,  exposing  them  to  the  sun,  oiling  them,  and  then  wrapping 
them  once  more  in  feathers — fresh  feathers,  brought  by  the 
worshippers,  and  given  in  exchange  for  the  old  ones,  which 
were  taken  away  as  prized  relics  to  be  fastened  to  the  sacred 

Can  it  be  that  the  feathers  represent  divine  birds,  symbolic 
of  the  "Sky  People"  ?  We  know  that  many  birds  were  peculiarly 
sacred  (the  tropic  bird  of  Fiji  might  be  mentioned  among 
others),  and  the  messages  of  the  gods  were  said  to  have  been 
at  first  transmitted  by  the  birds,  until  the  priests  were  taught 
to  do  so  in  the  squeaky  voices — possibly  imitative  of  bird-cries — 
they  adopted. 

Such  deifications  of  birds  took  place  elsewhere  than 
in  Fiji  and  Egypt.  Charles  de  Kay  has  written  a  learned 
yet  readable  book18  devoted  to  expounding  the  worship 
of  birds  in  ancient  Europe,  and  their  gradual  mergence 
into  deities  of  human  likeness.  He  calls  attention  to  re- 
mains in  early  European  lore  indicating  a  very  extensive 
connection  of  birds  with  gods,  pointing  to  a  worship  of 


the  bird  itself  as  the  living  representative  of  a  god,  "or 
else  to  such  a  position  of  the  bird  toward  a  deity  as  to 
fairly  permit  the  inference  that  at  a  period  still  more 
remote  the  bird  itself  was  worshipped."  The  Poly- 
nesian practices  detailed  above  certainly  are  of  very 
ancient  origin,  probably  coming  to  the  islands  with  the 
earliest  migrants  from  the  East  Indian  mainlands;  and 
the  theology  involved  may  be  a  lingering  relic  of  the 
times  and  ideas  described  in  De  Kay's  treatise. 

To  carry  these  matters  further  is  not  within  my  plan, 
for  they  would  lead  us  into  the  mazes  of  comparative 
mythology,  which  it  is  my  purpose  to  avoid  as  far  as 
possible,  restricting  myself  to  history,  sayings,  and  allu- 
sions that  pertain  to  real,  not  imaginary,  birds.* 

The  distinction  I  try  to  make  between  the  mythical  and 
the  legendary  or  real,  may  be  illustrated  by  the  king- 
fisher— in  this  case,  of  course,  the  common  species  of 
southern  Europe.  Let  us  consider  first  the  mythical  side. 
Alcyone,  daughter  of  /Eolus,  the  wind-god,  impelled  by 
love  for  her  husband  Ceyx,  whom  she  found  dead  on 
the  shore  after  a  shipwreck,  threw  herself  into  the  sea. 
The  gods,  rewarding  their  conjugal  love,  changed  the 
pair  into  kingfishers.  What  connection  exists  between 
this,  which  is  simply  a  classic  yarn,  and  the  ancient  theory 
of  the  nidification  of  this  species,  I  do  not  know;  but 
the  story  was — now  we  are  talking  of  the  real  bird,  which 
the  Greeks  and  Latins  saw  daily — that  the  kingfisher 
hatched  its  eggs  at  the  time  of  the  winter  solstice  in  a 
nest  shaped  like  a  hollow  sponge,  and   thought  to  be 

♦Nevertheless,  I  have  made  one  exception  by  devoting  a  chap- 
ter to  "a  fabulous  flock"  of  wholly  fictitious  birds,  namely,  the 
phenix,  rukh  (roc),  simurgh  and  their  fellows — all  hatched  from 
the  same  solar  nest — because  they  have  become  familiar  to  us,  by 
name,  at  least,  in  literature,  symbolism,  and  proverbial  sayings. 


solidly  composed  of  fish-bones,  which  was  set  afloat,  or 
at  any  rate  floated,  on  the  surface  of  the  Mediterranean. 
The  natural  query  how  such  a  structure  could  survive  the 
shock  of  waves  led  to  the  theory  that  Father  yEolus  made 
the  winds  "behave"  during  the  brooding-time.  As  Pliny 
explains :  "For  seven  days  before  the  winter  solstice,  and 
for  the  same  length  of  time  after  it,  the  sea  becomes  calm 
in  order  that  the  kingfishers  may  rear  their  young." 
Simonides,  Plutarch,  and  many  other  classic  authorities, 
testify  to  the  same  tradition,  which  seems  to  have  be- 
longed particularly  to  the  waters  about  Sicily.  More 
recent  writers  kept  alive  the  tender  conceit. 

Along  the  coast  the  mourning  halcyon's  heard 
Lamenting  sore  her  spouse's  fate, 

are  lines  from  Ariosto's  verse  almost  duplicated  by 
Camoens;  and  Southey — 

The  halcyons  brood  around  the  foamless  isles, 
The  treacherous  ocean  has  forsworn  its  wiles. 

while  Dryden  speaks  of  "halcyons  brooding  on  a  winter 
sea,"  and  Drayton  makes  use  of  the  legend  in  five  differ- 
ent poems.  It  is  a  fact  that  in  the  region  of  southern 
Italy  a  period  of  calm  weather  ordinarily  follows  the 
blustering  gales  of  late  autumn,  which  may  have  sug- 
gested this  poetic  explanation;  but  one  student  believes 
that  the  story  may  have  been  developed  from  a  far  earlier 
tradition.  "The  Rhibus  of  Aryan  mythology,  storm- 
demons,  slept  for  twelve  nights  [and  days]  about  the 
winter  solstice  ...  in  the  house  of  the  sun-god  Savitar." 
Such  is  the  history  behind  our  proverbial  expression 
for  tranquillity,  and  often  it  has  been  used  very  remotely 


from  its  original  sense,  as  when  in  Henry  VI  Shakespeare 
makes  La  Pucelle  exclaim:  "Expect  St.  Martin's  sum- 
mer, halcyon  days,"  St.  Martin's  summer  being  the 
English  name  for  that  warm  spell  in  November  known  to 
us  as  Indian  summer.  All  this  is  an  extended  example 
of  the  kind  of  poetic  myth  which  has  been  told  of  many 
different  birds,  and  which  in  this  book  is  left  to  be  sought 
out  in  treatises  on  mythology. 

In  contrast  with  this  sort  of  tale  I  find  many  non- 
mythical  notions,  historical  or  existing,  concerning  the 
actual  kingfisher,  which  properly  belong  to  my  scheme. 
One  of  the  oldest  is  the  custom  formerly  in  vogue  in 
England,  and  more  recently  in  France,  of  turning  this 
bird  into  a  weathercock.  The  body  of  a  mummified  king- 
fisher with  extended  wings  would  be  suspended  by  a 
thread,  nicely  balanced,  in  order  to  show  the  direction 
of  the  wind,  as  in  that  posture  it  would  always  turn  its 
beak,  even  when  hung  inside  the  house,  toward  the  point 
of  the  compass  whence  the  breeze  blew.  Kent,  in  King 
Lear,  speaks  of  rogues  who 

Turn  their  halcyon  beaks 
With  every  gale  and  vary  of  their  masters. 

And  after  Shakespeare  Marlowe,  in  his  Jew  of  Malta, 

But  how  stands  the  wind? 

Into    what   corner   peers    my   halcyon's    bill? 

We  are  told  mat  the  fishermen  of  the  British  and  French 
coasts  hang  these  kingfisher  weathervanes  in  the  rigging 
of  their  boats ;  and  it  seems  likely  to  me  that  it  was  among 
sailors  that  the  custom  began. 


Although  Sir  Thomas  Browne  33  attributed  "an  occult 
and  secret  property"  to  this  bird  as  an  indicator  of  wind- 
drift,  it  does  not  otherwise  appear  that  it  had  any  magical 
reputation:  yet  the  skin  of  a  kingfisher  was  sure  to  be 
found  among  the  stuffed  crocodiles,  grinning  skulls  and 
similar  decorations  of  the  consulting-room  of  a  medieval 
"doctor,"  who  himself  rarely  realized,  perhaps,  what  a 
fakir  he  was.  Moreover,  we  read  "That  its  dried  body 
kept  in  a  house  protected  against  lightning  and  kept 
moths  out  of  garments." 

On  the  American  continent,  probably  the  nearest  ap- 
proach to  the  "sacredness"  discussed  in  a  former  para- 
graph, is  the  sincere  veneration  of  their  animal-gods,  in- 
cluding a  few  birds,  by  the  Zuriis  and  some  other  Village 
Indians  of  New  Mexico  and  Arizona,  which  has  been 
studied  minutely  by  our  ethnologists.  Yet  we  read  of 
many  other  sacred  birds  among  the  redmen.  The  red- 
headed woodpecker  is  regarded  as  the  tutelary  deity  of 
the  Omahas,  and  as  the  patron-saint  of  children,  because, 
they  say,  its  own  family  is  kept  in  so  safe  a  place. 
Pawnees  have  much  the  same  sentiment  toward  the  wren, 
which  they  call  "laughing-bird"  because  it  seems  always 
happy.  The  crow  was  the  sacred  bird  of  the  "ghost- 
dance" — a  religious  ceremony  of  high  significance  among 
the  tribes  of  the  Plains,  as  is  explained  in  Chapter  IX. 
The  Navahos  regard  the  mountain  bluebird  as  sacred  on 
account  of  its  azure  plumage,  which  (as  something  blue) 
is  representative  of  the  South ;  and  it  is  deemed  the  herald 
of  the  rising  sun,  which  is  their  supreme  image  of  God. 
One  of  their  old  men  told  Stewart  Culin  that  "two  blue 
birds  stand  at  the  door  of  the  house  in  which  [certain] 
gods  dwell." 

In  most  cases  among  our  Indians,  as  elsewhere,  it  is  un- 


lawful  to  kill  or  eat  such  a  bird,  which  indicates  a  rela- 
tion to  totemism.  Thus,  as  Powers 19  asserts,  the  Mono 
Indians  of  the  Sierra  Nevada,  never  kill  their  sacred  black 
eagles,  but  pluck  out  the  feathers  of  those  that  die  and 
wear  them  on  their  heads.  "When  they  succeed  in  cap- 
turing a  young  one,  after  a  fortnight  the  village  makes  a 
great  jubilation.,,  Some  Eskimos  will  not  eat  gulls' 
eggs,  which  make  men  old  and  decrepit. 

Whatever  tradition  or  superstition  or  other  motive 
affected  the  choice  of  any  bird  as  a  tribal  totem,  or  en- 
dowed it  with  "sacredness,"  practical  considerations  were 
surely  influential.  It  is  noticeable  that  the  venerated  ibis 
and  hawk  in  Egypt  were  useful  to  the  people  as  devourers 
of  vermin — young  crocodiles,  poisonous  snakes,  grain- 
eating  mice  and  so  forth.  Storks  in  Europe  and  India, 
and  the  "unclean"  birds  of  Palestine  forbidden  to  the 
Jews,  were  mostly  carrion-eaters,  and  as  such  were  de- 
sirable street-cleaners  in  village  and  camp.  A  tradition 
in  the  ^Lgean  island  Tenos  is  that  Poseidon — a  Greek  St. 
Patrick — sent  storks  to  clear  the  island  of  snakes,  which 
originally  were  numerous  there.  Australian  frontiers- 
men preserve  the  big  kingfisher,  dubbed  "laughing- jack- 
ass," for  the  same  good  reason.  The  wiser  men  in  early 
communities  appreciated  this  kind  of  service  by  birds, 
and  added  a  religious  sanction  to  their  admonition  that 
such  servants  of  mankind  should  not  be  killed.  It  was  the 
primitive  movement  toward  bird-protection,  which,  by 
the  way,  was  first  applied  in  this  country  to  the  scaveng- 
ing turkey-buzzards  and  carrion-crows  of  the  Southern 

As  for  the  smaller  birds,  where  special  regard  was 
paid  them  it  was  owing,  apart  from  the  natural  humane 
admiration  and  enjoyment  of  these  pretty  creatures,  to 


the  mystery  and  fiction  of  their  being  animated  by  spirits. 
When  they  were  black,  like  ravens  and  cormorants,  or 
were  cruel  night-prowlers,  such  as  owls,  or  uttered  dis- 
consolate cries,  they  were  thought  to  be  inhabited  by 
dread,  malignant,  spirits  "from  night's  Plutonian  shore," 
as  Poe  expresses  it,  but  when  they  had  pretty  plumage, 
pleasing  ways  and  melodious  voices,  they  were  deemed 
the  embodiment  of  beneficent  and  happy  spirits — per- 
haps even  those  of  departed  relatives. 

Hence  we  have  the  notion  that  some  birds  are  lucky 
and  others  unlucky  in  their  relation  to  us.  Those  that 
bring  good  luck  are  mainly  those  kinds  that  associate 
themselves  with  civilization,  such  as  the  various  robins, 
wrens  and  storks,  the  doves  and  the  swallows.  Even  so, 
however,  time  and  place  must  be  considered  in  every  case, 
for  the  dearest  of  little  birds  when  it  pecks  at  a  window- 
pane,  or  seems  bent  on  entering  a  cottage  door  will  arouse 
tremors  of  fear  in  a  superstitious  heart — much  more  so 
a  bird  that  ordinarily  keeps  aloof  from  mankind.  Frazer 
records,  in  his  essay  on  Scapegoats,  that  if  a  wild  bird  flies 
into  a  rural  Malay's  house,  it  must  be  carefully  caught 
and  smeared  with  oil,  and  must  then  be  released  into  the 
open  air  with  a  formula  of  words  adjuring  it  to  take  away 
all  ill-luck.  In  antiquity  Greek  women  seem  to  have  done 
the  same  with  any  swallow  they  found  inside  the  house, 
a  custom  mentioned  by  both  Pythagoras  and  Plato — the 
latter  humorously  proposing  to  dismiss  poets  from  his 
ideal  State  in  the  same  manner.  Such  doings  remind 
one  of  the  function  of  the  scapegoat ;  and  in  fact,  accord- 
ing to  Frazer,  the  Hazuls,  of  the  Carpathian  Mountains, 
imagine  they  can  transfer  their  freckles  to  the  first 
swallow  they  see  in  the  spring  by  uttering  a  certain  com- 
mand to  the  bird.    Are  these  practices  distorted  reminis- 


cences  of  the  conjuring  by  the  Hebrew  shaman  as  de- 
scribed in  the  Old  Testament  ? 

This  shall  be  the  law  of  the  leper  in  the  day  of  his  cleansing: 
He  shall  be  brought  into  the  priest.  .  .  .  Then  shall  the  priest 
command  to  take  for  him  that  is  to  be  cleaned  two  birds  alive 
and  clean,  and  cedar  wood  and  scarlet  and  hyssop.  And  the 
priest  shall  command  that  one  of  the  birds  be  killed  in  an 
earthen  vessel  over  running  water.  As  for  the  living  bird,  he 
shall  take  it  and  the  cedar  wood,  and  the  scarlet,  and  the  hyssop, 
and  shall  dip  them  and  the  living  bird  in  the  blood  of  the  bird 
that  was  killed  over  the  running  water;  and  he  shall  sprinkle 
upon  him  that  is  to  be  cleansed  from  the  leprosy  seven  times, 
and  shall  pronounce  him  clean,  and  shall  let  the  living  bird 
loose  into  the  open  field.     (Lev.  xiv,  27.) 

The  matter  of  "luck"  in  this  hocus-pocus  seems  to  lie 
in  the  chance  as  to  which  birds  is  chosen  to  be  "scapegoat," 
and  so  is  allowed  to  remain  alive,  cleaning  its  feathers  as 
best  it  may.  Evidently,  the  bird  that  wishes  to  do  noth- 
ing to  offend  anyone  must  go  warily.  A  cuckoo,  for  ex- 
ample, may  spoil  the  day  for  an  English  milkmaid  by 
incautiously  sounding  its  call  before  her  breakfast. 

Such  has  been  the  mental  attitude  underlying  the  amaz- 
ing ideas  and  practices  that  will  be  found  described  in 
succeeding  chapters  of  this  collection  of  traditional  bird- 
lore,  much  of  which  is  so  juvenile  and  absurd.  Until 
one  reviews  the  groping  steps  by  which  mankind  ad- 
vanced with  very  uneven  speed — a  large  body  of  it  having 
yet  hardly  begun  the  progress,  even  among  the  "civilized" 
— from  the  crudest  animism  to  a  clearer  and  clearer  com- 
prehension of  "natural  law  in  the  physical  world,"  he 
cannot  understand  how  men  gave  full  credence  to  fictions 
that  the  most  superficial  examination,  or  the  simplest 
reasoning,  would  show  were  false,  and  trembled  before 
the  most  imaginary  of  alarms.     Add  to  this  childish 


credulity  the  teachings  of  religious  and  political  leaders 
who  had  much  to  gain  by  conserving  the  ignorance  and 
faith  of  their  followers;  add  again  the  fruitful  influence 
of  story-tellers  and  poets  who  utilized  ancient  legends 
and  beliefs  for  literary  advantage,  and  you  have  the  his- 
tory and  explanation  of  how  so  many  primitive  super- 
stitions and  errors  have  survived  to  our  day. 


SEVERAL  nations  and  empires  of  both  ancient  and 
modern  times  have  adopted  birds  as  emblems  of 
their  sovereignty,  or  at  least  have  placed  promi- 
nently on  their  coats  of  arms  and  great  seals  the  figures 
of  birds. 

Among  these  the  eagle — some  species  of  the  genus 
Aquila — takes  precedence  both  in  time  and  in  importance. 
The  most  ancient  recorded  history  of  the  human  race  is 
that  engraved  on  the  tablets  and  seals  of  chiefs  who 
organized  a  civilization  about  the  head  of  the  Persian 
Gulf  more  than  4000  years  before  the  beginning  of  the 
Christian  era.  These  record  by  both  text  and  pictures 
that  the  emblem  of  the  Summerian  city  of  Lagash,  which 
ruled  southern  Mesopotamia  long  previous  to  its  subjuga- 
tion by  Babylonia  about  3000  B.  C,  was  an  eagle  "dis- 
played," that  is,  facing  us  with  wings  and  legs  spread 
and  its  head  turned  in  profile.  This  figure  was  carried 
by  the  army  of  Lagash  as  a  military  standard;  but  a 
form  of  it  with  a  lion's  head  was  reserved  as  the  special 
emblem  of  the  Lagash  gods,  with  which  the  royal  house 
was  identified — the  king's  standard. 

After  the  conquest  of  Babylonia  by  Assyria  this  eagle 
of  Lagash  was  taken  over  by  the  conquerors,  and  appears 
on  an  Assyrian  seal  of  the  king  of  Ur  many  centuries 
later.  "From  this  eagle,"  says  Ward,23  "in  its  heraldic 
attitude  necessitated  by  its  attack  on  two  animals   [as 



represented  on  many  seals  and  decorations]  was  derived 
the  two-headed  eagle,  in  the  effort  to  complete  the 
bilateral  symmetry.  This  double-headed  eagle  appears 
in  Hittite  art,  and  is  continued  down  through  Turkish  and 
modern  European  symbolism." 

Among  the  host  of  rock-carvings  in  the  Eyuk  section 
of  the  mountains  of  Cappadocia  (Pteria  of  the  Greeks) 
that  are  attributed  to  the  Hittites,  Perrot  and  Chipiez 
found  carvings  of  a  double-headed  eagle  which  they 
illustrate;112  and  they  speak  of  them  as  often  occurring. 
"Its  position  is  always  a  conspicuous  one — about  a  great 
sanctuary,  the  principal  doorway  to  a  palace,  a  castle 
wall,  and  so  forth;  rendering  the  suggestion  that  the 
Pterians  used  the  symbol  as  a  coat  of  arms." 

Dr.  Ward  thought  the  Assyrian  two-headed  figure  of 
their  national  bird  resulted  from  an  artistic  effort  at 
symmetry,  balancing  the  wings  and  feet  outstretched  on 
each  side,  but  I  cannot  help  feeling  that  here  among  the 
Hittites  it  had  its  origin  in  a  deeper  sentiment  than  that. 
It  seems  to  me  that  it  was  a  way  of  expressing  the  dual 
sex  of  their  godhead,  presupposed,  in  the  crudeness  of 
primitive  nature-worship,  to  account  for  the  condition 
of  earthly  things,  male  and  female  uniting  for  productive- 
ness— the  old  story  of  sky  and  earth  as  co-generators  of 
all  life.  Many  other  symbols,  particularly  those  of  a 
phallic  character,  were  used  in  Asiatic  religions  to  typify 
the  same  idea;  or  perhaps  the  conception  was  of  that 
divine  duality,  in  the  sense  of  co-equal  power  of  Good 
and  Evil,  God  and  Satan,  that  later  became  so  conspicuous 
in  the  doctrine  of  the  ancient  Persians.  Could  it  have 
been  a  purified  modification  of  this  significance  that  made 
the  eagle  during  the  Mosaic  period — if  Bayley 24  is  right 
— an  emblem  of  the  Holy  Spirit?     And  Bayley  adds 



that  "its  portrayal  with  two  heads  is  said  to  have  re- 
corded the  double  portion  of  the  spirit  bestowed  on 

Old  Mohammedan  traditions,  according  to  Dalton, 
give  the  name  "hamca"  to  a  fabulous  creature  identical 
with  the  bicephalous  eagle  carved  on  Hittite  rock-faces. 
Dalton25  says  also  that  coins  with  this  emblem  were 
struck  and  issued  by  Malek  el  Sala  Mohammed,  one  of 
the  Sassanids,  in  1217;  and  that  this  figure  was  engraved 
in  the  13th  century  by  Turkoman  princes  on  the  walls 
of  their  castles,  and  embroidered  on  their  battle-flags. 

To  the  early  Greeks  the  eagle  was  the  messenger  of 
Zeus.  If,  as  asserted,  it  was  the  royal  cognizance  of  the 
Etruscans,  it  came  naturally  to  the  Romans,  by  whom 
it  was  officially  adopted  for  the  Republic  in  87  B.  C, 
when  a  silver  eagle,  standing  upright  on  a  spear,  its 
wings  half  raised,  its  head  in  profile  to  the  left,  and 
thunderbolts  in  its  claws,  was  placed  on  the  military 
standards  borne  at  the  head  of  all  the  legions  in  the 
army.  This  was  in  the  second  consulship  of  Caius 
Marius,  who  decreed  certain  other  honors  to  be  paid  to 
the  bird's  image  in  the  Curia. 

One  need  not  accuse  the  Romans  of  merely  copying  the 
ancient  monarchies  of  the  East.  If  they  thought  of  any- 
thing beyond  the  majestic  appearance  of  the  noble  bird, 
it  was  to  remember  its  association  with  their  great  god 
Jupiter — the  counterpart  of  Zeus.  Nothing  is  plainer  as 
to  the  origin  of  the  ideas  that  later  took  shape  in  the 
divinities  of  celestial  residence  than  that  Jupiter  was  the 
personification  of  the  heavens ;  and  what  is  more  natural 
than  that  the  lightnings  should  be  conceived  of  as  his 
weapons?  Once,  early  in  his  history,  when  Jupiter  was 
equipping  himself  for  a  battle  with  the  Titans,  an  eagle 


brought  him  his  dart,  since  which  time  Jupiter's  eagle  has 
always  been  represented  as  holding  thunderbolts  in  its 
talons.  The  bird  thus  became  a  symbol  of  supreme  power, 
and  a  natural  badge  for  soldiers.  The  emperors  of  im- 
perial Rome  retained  it  on  their  standards,  Hadrian 
changing  its  metal  from  silver  to  gold;  and  "the  eagles 
of  Rome"  came  to  be  a  common  figure  of  speech  to  ex- 
press her  military  prowess  and  imperial  sway. 

By  such  a  history,  partly  mythical,  and  partly  practical 
and  glorious,  this  bird  came  to  typify  imperialism  in  gen- 
eral. A  golden  eagle  mounted  on  a  spear,  was  the  royal 
standard  of  the  elder  Cyrus,  as  it  had  been  of  his 

When  Napoleon  I.  dreamed  of  universal  conquest  he 
revived  on  the  regimental  banners  of  his  troops  the 
insignia  of  his  Roman  predecessors  in  banditry — in  fact 
he  was  entitled  to  do  so,  for  he  had  inherited  them  by 
right  of  conquest  from  both  Italy  and  Austria,  the 
residuary  legatees  of  Rome.  Discontinued  in  favor  of 
their  family  bees  by  the  Bourbons,  during  their  brief 
reign  after  the  fall  of  Bonaparte,  the  eagle  was  restored 
to  France  by  a  decree  of  Louis  Napoleon  in  1852.  There 
is  a  legend  that  a  tame  eagle  was  let  loose  before  him 
when  he  landed  in  France  from  England  to  become 
President  of  the  first  French  Republic.  Now  it  is  the 
proper  finial  for  flagstaffs  all  over  the  world  except, 
curiously,  in  France  itself,  where  a  wreath  of  laurel 
legally  surmounts  the  tricolor  of  the  Republic,  which  has 
discarded  all  reminders  of  royalty.  Thus  the  pride  of 
conquerors  has  dropped  to  the  commonplace  of  fashion — 

Imperial    Caesar,    dead    and   turned   to    clay, 
Might  stop  a  hole  to  keep  the  wind  away. 


The  destruction  of  the  Italian  and  western  half  of  the 
old  Roman  empire  was  by  the  hands  of  northern  bar- 
barians who  at  first  were  mere  conquerors  and  despoilers, 
but  finally,  affected  by  their  contact  with  civilization  and 
law,  became  residents  in  and  rulers  of  Italy,  and  were 
proud  to  assume  the  titles  and  what  they  could  of  the 
dignity  of  Roman  emperors.  In  the  eighth  century 
Charlemagne  became  substantially  master  of  the  western 
world,  at  least,  and  assumed  the  legionary  eagle  as  he 
did  the  purple  robes  of  an  Augustus;  and  his  successors 
held  both  with  varying  success  until  the  tenth  century, 
when  German  kings  became  supreme  and  in  962  founded 
that  very  unholy  combination  styled  the  Holy  Roman 
Empire.  For  hundreds  of  years  this  fiction  was  main- 
tained. At  times  its  eagle  indicated  a  real  lordship  over 
all  Europe ;  between  times  the  states  broke  apart,  and,  as 
each  kept  the  royal  standard,  separate  eagles  contended 
for  mastery.  Thus  Prussia  and  other  German  kingdoms 
retained  on  their  shields  the  semblance  of  a  "Roman" 
eagle ;  and  the  Teutonic  Knights  carried  it  on  their  savage 
expeditions  of  "evangelization"  to  the  eastern  Baltic  lands. 

All  these  were  more  or  less  conventional  figures  of 
the  Bird  of  Jove  in  its  natural  form,  but  a  heraldic  figure 
with  two  heads  turned,  Janus  like,  in  opposite  directions, 
was  soon  to  be  revived  in  the  region  where,  as  we  have 
seen,  it  had  been  familiar  2000  years  before  as  the 
national  emblem  of  the  Eastern,  or  Byzantine,  Empire, 
which  for  hundreds  of  years  contested  with  Rome,  both 
the  political  and  the  ecclesiastical  hegemony  of  the  world. 
Just  when  this  symbol  came  into  favor  at  Constantinople 
is  unknown,  but  one  authority  says  it  did  not  appear  be- 
fore the  tenth  century.  At  that  time  the  Eastern  em- 
perors were  recovering  lost  provinces  and  extending  their 


rule  until  it  included  all  the  civilized  part  of  western  Asia, 
Greece,  Bulgaria,  southern  Italy,  and  much  of  the  islands 
and  shores  of  the  Mediterranean;  and  they  asserted  re- 
ligious supremacy,  at  least,  over  the  rival  European  em- 
pire erected  on  Charlemagne's  foundation.  It  would 
seem  natural  that  at  this  prosperous  period,  when 
Byzantium  proudly  claimed,  if  she  did  not  really  possess 
all  "the  glory  that  was  Greece  and  the  grandeur  that 
was  Rome,"  such  a  double-headed  device  might  be 
adopted,  signifying  that  she  had  united  the  western  power 
with  her  own.  The  evidence  of  this  motive  is  doubtful, 
however,  for  it  is  not  until  a  much  later  date  that  the 
figure  begins  to  be  seen  on  coins  and  textiles,  first  at 
Trebizond,  particularly  in  connection  with  the  emperor 
Theodore  Lascaris,  who  reigned  at  the  beginning  of  the 
13th  century.  Dalton 25  suggests  plausibly  that  this 
symbol  may  have  become  Byzantine  through  the  circum- 
stance that  this  Lascaris  had  previously  been  despot  of 
Nicomedia,  in  which  province  Bogaz-Keui  and  other 
Hittite  remains  were  situated,  and  where  the  bicephalous 
carvings  heretofore  alluded  to  are  still  to  be  seen  on  rock- 
faces  and  ruins,  always  in  association  with  royalty. 

It  is  very  attractive  to  think  that  this  form  of  eagle 
was  chosen,  as  has  been  suggested,  to  express  the  fact 
that  Constantinople  was  now  lord  over  both  halves,  East 
and  West,  into  which  Diocletian  had  divided  the  original 
empire  of  Rome.  Whether  this  idea  was  behind  the 
choice  I  do  not  know,  but  at  any  rate  the  two-faced 
eagle  became  latterly  the  acknowledged  ensign  of  imperial 
Byzantium,  and  as  such  was  introduced  into  European 
royal  heraldry,  whether  or  not  by  means  of  the  returning 
Crusaders,  as  commonly  stated,  remains  obscure. 

In  the  15th  century  what  was  left  of  the  Holy  Roman 


Empire  became  the  heritage  of  the  Austrian  house  of 
Hapsburg  which  had  succeeded  the  German  Hohen- 
stauffens;  and  to  Sigismund,  head  of  the  house  in  that 
century,  is  ascribed  the  design  in  the  Austrian  arms  of 
the  two-headed  eagle,  looking  right  and  left,  as  if  to 
signify  boastfully  that  he  ruled  both  East  and  West. 
These  were  relative  and  indefinite  domains,  but  as  he 
had,  by  his  crowning  at  Rome,  received  at  least  nominal 
sovereignty  over  the  fragmentary  remains  in  Greece  of 
the  ancient  Eastern  Empire,  he  was  perhaps  justified  in 
adopting  the  Byzantine  ensign  as  "captured  colors'* ;  but 
a  rival  was  soon  to  present  a  stronger  claim  to  these 
fragments  and  their  badge. 

In  this  same  period,  that  is  in  the  middle  of  the  15th 
century,  Ivan  the  Great  of  Russia  was  striving  with  high 
purpose  and  despotic  strength  to  bring  back  under  one 
sway  the  divided  house  of  Muscovy,  together  with  what- 
ever else  he  could  obtain.  To  further  this  purpose  he 
married,  in  1472,  Sophia  Paleologos,  niece  of  the  last 
Byzantine  emperor,  getting  with  her  Greece  and  hence  a 
barren  title  to  the  throne  of  the  Eastern  empire — a  barren 
title  because  its  former  domain  was  now  over-run  by  the 
Turks,  but  very  important  in  the  fact  that  it  included 
the  headship  of  the  Greek,  or  Orthodox,  Church.  From 
this  time  Russia  as  well  as  Austria  has  borne  a  two-faced 
eagle  on  its  escutcheon;  and,  although  both  birds  are 
from  the  same  political  nest,  the  feeling  between  them 
has  been  far  from  brotherly. 

It  may  be  remarked  here,  parenthetically,  that  in  Egypt 
the  cult  of  the  kingly  eagle  never  flourished,  for  the 
griffon  vulture,  "far-sighted,  ubiquitous,  importunate," 
became  the  grim  emblem  of  royal  power;  and  a  smaller 
vulture    {Neophron   pcrcnopterus)    is   called    Pharaoh's 


chicken  to  this  day  by  the  fellaheen.  By  "eagle"  in  Semitic 
(Biblical)  legends  is  usually  meant  the  lammergeier. 

Prussia  had  kept  a  single-headed  eagle  as  her  cog- 
nizance in  remembrance  of  her  previous  "Roman"  great- 
ness; and  it  was  retained  by  the  German  Empire  when 
that  was  created  by  Bismarck  half  a  century  and  more 
ago.  From  it  the  Kaiser  designated  the  two  German 
military  orders — the  Black  Eagle  and  the  superior  Red 
Eagle;  and  Russia  and  Serbia  have  each  instituted  an 
order  called  White  Eagle.  The  traditional  eagle  of 
Poland  is  represented  as  white  on  a  black  ground.  It  was 
displayed  during  the  period  of  subjection  following  the 
partition  of  the  country  in  1795,  with  closed  wings,  but 
now,  since  19 19,  it  spreads  its  pinions  wide  in  the  pride 
of  freedom. 

In  the  years  between  191 4  and  19 19  an  allied  party  of 
hunters,  enraged  by  their  depredations,  zvent  gunning  for 
these  birds  of  prey,  killed  most  of  them  and  sorely 
wounded  the  rest! 

Although  several  species  of  real  eagles  inhabit  the 
Mediterranean  region  and  those  parts  of  Europe  and  Asia 
where  these  nations  lived,  and  warred,  and  passed  away, 
and  are  somewhat  confused  in  the  mass  of  myth  and  tra- 
dition relating  to  them,  the  one  chosen  by  Rome  was 
the  golden  eagle,  so  called  because  of  the  golden  gloss 
that  suffuses  the  feathers  of  the  neck  in  mature  birds. 
Now  we  have  this  species  of  sea-eagle  in  the  United 
States,  and  it  has  been  from  time  immemorial  the  honored 
War-eagle  of  the  native  redmen.  If  it  was  needful  at 
our  political  birth  to  put  any  sort  of  animal  on  our  seal, 
and  the  choice  was  narrowed  down  to  an  eagle,  it  would 
have  been  far  more  appropriate  to  have  chosen  the  golden 
rather  than  the  white-headed  or  "bald"  species — first  be- 


cause  the  golden  is  in  habits  and  appearance  far  the  nobler 
of  the  two,  and,  second,  because  of  the  supreme  regard 
in  which  it  was  held  by  all  the  North  American  aborigi- 
nes, who  paid  no  respect  whatever  to  the  bald  eagle.  On 
the  other  hand,  the  white  head  and  neck  of  our  accepted 
species  gives  a  distinctive  mark  to  our  coat  of  arms. 
The  history  of  the  adoption  of  this  symbol  of  the  United 
States  of  America  is  worth  a  paragraph. 

On  July  4,  1776,  on  the  afternoon  following  the  morn- 
ing hours  in  which  the  Congress  in  Philadelphia  had 
performed  the  momentous  duty  of  proclaiming  the  inde- 
pendence of  the  United  States,  it  dropped  down  to  the 
consideration  of  its  cockade,  and  appointed  a  committee 
to  prepare  a  device  for  a  Great  Seal  and  coat-of-arms 
for  the  new  republic.26  Desiring  to  avoid  European 
models,  yet  clinging  to  the  traditions  of  art  in  these 
matters,  the  committee  devised  and  offered  in  succession 
several  complicated  allegorical  designs  that  were  promptly 
and  wisely  rejected  by  the  Congress.  Finally,  in  1782,  the 
matter  was  left  in  the  hands  of  Charles  Thomson,  Secre- 
tary of  the  Congress,  and  he  at  once  consulted  with 
William  Barton  of  Philadelphia.  They  abandoned 
allegory  and  designed  an  eagle  "displayed  proper,"  that 
is,  with  a  shield  on  its  breast.  Mr.  Barton,  who  was 
learned  in  heraldry,  explained  that  "the  escutcheon  being 
placed  on  the  breast  of  the  eagle  displayed  is  a  very 
ancient  mode  of  bearing,  and  is  truly  imperial."  To 
avoid  an  "imperial"  effect,  however,  a  concession  was 
made  to  local  prejudice  by  indicating  plainly  that  the  bird 
itself  was  the  American  bald  eagle — unless,  indeed,  that 
happened  to  be  the  only  one  Barton  knew ! 

This  design  was  finally  adopted  in  1782.     Since  then 
the  Great  Seal  has  been  re-cut  several  times,  so  that  the 


bird  in  its  imprint  is  now  a  far  more  reputable  fowl  than 
at  first — looks  less  as  if  it  were  nailed  on  a  barn-door 
pour  encourager  les  autrcs.  In  its  right  claw  it  holds  a 
spray  of  ripe  olives  as  an  emblem  of  a  peaceful  disposi- 
tion, and  in  its  left  an  indication  of  resolution  to  en- 
force peace,  in  the  form  of  American  thunderbolts — 
the  redman's  arrows. 

There  were  men  in  the  Congress  in  1782,  as  well  as 
out  of  it,  who  disliked  using  any  eagle  whatever  as  a 
feature  of  the  arms  of  the  Republic,  feeling  that  it 
savored  of  the  very  spirit  and  customs  against  which  the 
formation  of  this  commonwealth  was  a  protest.  Among 
them  stood  that  clear-headed  master  of  common  sense, 
Benjamin  Franklin,  who  thought  a  thoroughly  native  and 
useful  fowl,  like  the  wild  turkey,  would  make  a  far  truer 
emblem  for  the  new  and  busy  nation.  He  added  to  the 
turkey's  other  good  qualities  that  it  was  a  bird  of  courage, 
remarking,  with  his  own  delightful  humor,  that  it  would 
not  hesitate  to  attack  any  Redcoat  that  entered  its  barn- 

Franklin  was  right  when  he  argued  against  the  choice 
of  the  bald  eagle,  at  any  rate,  as  our  national  emblem. 
"He  is,"  he  said  truly,  "a  bird  of  bad  moral  character ; 
he  does  not  get  his  living  honestly;  you  may  have  seen 
him  perched  on  some  dead  tree,  where,  too  lazy  to  fish  for 
himself,  he  watches  the  labor  of  the  fishing-hawk,  and 
when  that  diligent  bird  has  at  length  taken  a  fish  and  is 
bearing  it  to  its  nest  the  bald  eagle  pursues  him  and  takes 
it  from  him.  Besides,  he  is  a  rank  coward;  the  little 
kingbird  attacks  him  boldly.  He  is  therefore  by  no  means 
a  proper  emblem." 

None  of  these  depreciatory  things  could  Franklin  have 
truly  said  of  the  skilful,  self-supporting,  and  handsome 


golden  eagle — a  Bird  of  Freedom  indeed.  (Audubon 
named  a  western  variety  of  it  after  General  Washington.) 
This  species  was  regarded  with  extreme  veneration  by 
the  native  redmen  of  this  country.  "Its  feathers,"  says 
Dr.  Brinton,  the  ethnologist,  "composed  the  war-flag  of 
the  Creeks,  and  its  image,  carved  in  wood,  or  its  stuffed 
skin,  surmounted  their  council-lodges.  None  but  an  ap- 
proved warrior  dare  wear  it  among  the  Cherokees,  and 
the  Dakotas  allowed  such  an  honor  only  to  him  who 
first  touched  the  corpse  of  the  common  foe.  The 
Natchez  and  other  tribes  regarded  it  almost  as  a  deity. 
The  Zuni  of  New  Mexico  employed  four  of  its  feathers 
to  represent  the  four  winds  when  invoking  the  raingod." 
Hence  a  war-song  of  the  O  jib  ways  reported  by  School- 
craft : 

Hear  my  voice  ye  warlike  birds ! 

I  prepare  a  feast  for  you  to  batten  on; 

I  see  you  cross  the  enemy's  lines; 

Like  you  I  shall  go. 

I  wish  the  swiftness  of  your  wings; 

I  wish  the  vengeance  of  your  claws; 

I  muster  my  friends; 

I  follow  your  flight. 

Doesn't  this  sound  like  a  bit  from  the  Saga  of  Harold 
Hadrada  ? 

Mexico  did  better  in  choosing  her  crested  eagle,  the 
harpy  ( Thrasaetus  harpia),&  magnificent  representative  of 
its  race,  renowned  from  Paraguay  to  Mexico  for  its  hand- 
some black-and-white  plumage  adorned  with  a  warrior's 
crest,  and  for  its  grand  flight,  dauntless  courage  and 
amazing  endurance.  Quesada  tells  us  that  the  Aztecs 
called  it  the  winged  wolf.  The  princes  of  Tlascala  wore 
its  image  on  their  breasts  and  on  their  shield  as  a  symbol 


of  royalty;  and  in  both  Mexico  and  Peru,  where  it  was 
trained  for  sport  in  falconry,  it  was  preferred  to  the 
puma,  which  also  was  taught  to  capture  deer  and  young 
peccaries  for  its  master,  as  is  the  cheeta  in  India.  Cap- 
tive harpies  are  still  set  to  fight  dogs  and  wildcats  in 
village  arenas,  and  rarely  are  vanquished. 

The  tradition  is  that  the  Aztecs,  a  northern  Nahuatl 
tribe,  escaping  from  the  tyranny  of  the  dominant  Chiche- 
mecas,  moved  about  A.  D.  1325  into  the  valley  of  Mexico 
(Tenochtitlan),  and  settled  upon  certain  islets  in  a 
marshy  lake — the  site  of  the  subsequent  City  of  Mexico ; 
and  this  safe  site  is  said  to  have  been  pointed  out  to 
them  by  a  sign  from  their  gods — an  eagle  perched  upon 
a  prickly-pear  cactus,  the  nopal,  in  the  act  of  strangling 
a  serpent.  This  is  the  picture  Cortez  engraved  on  his 
Great  Seal,  and  Mexico  has  kept  it  to  this  day. 

Guatemala  was  a  part  of  ancient  Mexico ;  and  perched 
on  the  shield  in  Guatemala's  coat-of-arms  is  the  green  or 
resplendent  trogon  {Plmromacrus  mocinno),  the  native 
and  antique  name  of  which  is  quetzal.  This  is  one  of 
the  most  magnificent  of  birds,  for  its  crested  head  and 
body  (somewhat  larger  than  a  sparrow's)  are  iridescent 
green,  the  breast  and  under  parts  crimson,  and  the  wings 
black  overhung  by  long,  plumy  coverts.  The  quetzal's 
special  ornament,  however,  is  its  bluish-green  tail,  eight 
or  ten  inches  long,  whose  gleaming  feathers  curve  down 
in  the  graceful  sweep  of  a  sabre.  It  has  been  called  the 
most  beautiful  of  American  birds,  and  it  is  peculiar  to 
Central  America. 

How  this  trogon  came  to  be  Guatemala's  national  sym- 
bol, made  familiar,  by  all  its  older  postage-stamps,  is  a 
matter  of  religious  history.  One  of  the  gods  in  the 
ancient  Aztec  pantheon  was  Quetzalcoatl,  of  whom  it  was 



said  in  their  legends  "that  he  was  of  majestic  presence, 
chaste  in  life,  averse  to  war,  wise  and  generous  in  action, 
and  delighting  in  the  cultivation  of  the  arts  of  peace." 
He  was  the  ruler  of  the  realm  far  below  the  surface  of 
the  earth,  where  the  sun  shines  at  night,  the  abode  of 
abundance  where  dwell  happy  souls;  and  there  Quetzal- 
coatl  abides  until  the  time  fixed  for  his  return  to  men. 
The  first  part  of  the  name  of  this  beneficent  god,  asso- 
ciated with  sunshine  and  green,  growing  things,  meant 
in  the  Nahuatl  language  a  large,  handsome,  green  feather, 
such  as  were  highly  prized  by  the  Aztecs  and  reserved  for 
the  decoration  of  their  chiefs;  and  one  tradition  of  the 
god's  origin  and  equipment  relates  that  he  was  furnished 
with  a  beard  made  of  these  plumes.  These  royal  and 
venerated  feathers  were  obtained  from  the  trogon,  which 
his  worshippers  called  Quetzal-totl.  The  emerald-hued 
hummingbirds  of  the  tropics  also  belonged  to  him. 

Although  Mexico  and  Central  America  were  "con- 
verted" to  Christianity  by  a  gospel  of  war  and  slavery,  the 
ancient  faith  lived  on  in  many  simple  hearts,  especially  in 
the  remoter  districts  of  the  South,  and  nowhere  more  per- 
sistently than  among  the  Mayas  of  Guatemala  and  Yuca- 
tan, whose  pyramidal  temples  are  moldering  in  their  uncut 
forests.  When,  in  1825,  Guatemala  declared  its  inde- 
pendence and  set  up  a  local  government,  what  more 
natural  than  that  it  should  take  as  a  national  symbol  the 
glorious  bird  that  represented  to  its  people  the  best  in- 
fluence in  their  ancient  history  and  the  most  hopeful  sug- 
gestion for  the  future. 

In  the  religion  of  the  Mayas  of  Yucatan  the  great  god 
of  light  was  Itsamna,  one  of  whose  titles  was  The  Lord, 
the  Eye  of  the  Day — a  truly  picturesque  description  of 
the  sun.     A  temple  at  Itzmal  was  consecrated  to  him 


under  the  double  name  Eye  of  Day-Bird  of  Fire.  "In 
time  of  pestilence,"  as  Dr.  Brinton  informs  us,27  "the 
people  resorted  to  this  temple,  and  at  high  noon  a  sacrifice 
was  spread  upon  the  altar.  The  moment  the  sun  reached 
the  zenith  a  bird  of  brilliant  plumage,  but  which  in  fact 
was  nothing  else  than  a  fiery  flame  shot  from  the  sun,  de- 
scended and  consumed  the  offering  in  the  sight  of  all." 
Another  authority  says  that  Midsummerday  was  cele- 
brated by  similar  rites.  Hence  was  held  sacred  the  flame- 
hued  ara,  or  guacamaya,  the  red  macaw. 

The  Musicas,  natives  of  the  Colombian  plateau  where 
Bogota  now  stands,  had  a  similar  half-superstitious  re- 
gard for  this  big  red  macaw,  which  they  called  "fire-bird." 
The  general  veneration  for  redness,  prevalent  throughout 
western  tropical  America,  and  in  Polynesia,  is  doubtless 
a  reflection  of  sun-worship. 

Let  us  turn  to  a  lighter  aspect  of  our  theme. 

France  rejoices,  humorously,  yet  sincerely,  in  the  cock 
as  her  emblem — the  strutting,  crowing,  combative  chan- 
ticleer that  arouses  respect  while  it  tickles  the  French 
sense  of  fun.  When  curiosity  led  me  to  inquire  how  this 
odd  representative  for  a  glorious  nation  came  into  exis- 
tence, I  was  met  by  a  complete  lack  of  readily  accessible 
information.  The  generally  accepted  theory  seemed  to 
be  that  it  was  to  be  explained  by  the  likeness  of  sound  be- 
tween the  Latin  word  gallus,  a  dunghill  cock,  and  Gallus, 
a  Gaul — the  general  appellative  by  which  the  Romans 
of  mid-Republic  days  designated  the  non-Italian,  Keltic- 
speaking  inhabitants  of  the  country  south  and  west  of 
the  Swiss  Alps.  But  whence  came  the  name  "gaul"  ?  and 
why  was  a  pun  on  it  so  apt  that  it  has  survived  through  long 
centuries?  I  knew,  of  course,  of  the  yarn  that  Diodorus 
Siculus  repeats:  that  in  Keltica  once  ruled  a  famous  man 



who  had  a  daughter  "tail  and  majestic"  but  unsatisfactory 
because  she  refused  all  the  suitors  who  presented  them- 
selves. Then  Hercules  came  along,  and  the  haughty 
maiden  surrendered  at  Arras.  The  result  was  a  son 
named  Galetes — a  lad  of  extraordinary  virtues  who  be- 
came king  and  extended  his  grandfather's  dominions. 
He  called  his  subjects  after  his  own  name  Galatians  and 
his  country  Galatia.  This  is  nonsense.  Moreover 
"Galatia"  is  Greek,  and  was  applied  by  the  Greeks,  long 
before  the  day  of  Diodorus,  to  the  lands  of  a  colony  of 
Keltic-speaking  migrants  who  had  settled  on  the  coast 
of  Asia  Minor,  and  became  the  Galatians  to  whom  Paul 
wrote  one  of  his  Epistles.  The  Greek  word  Galatai  was, 
however,  a  form  of  the  earlier  Keltai. 

As  has  been  said,  what  we  call  Savoy  and  France 
were  known  to  the  Romans  as  Gallia,  Gaul ;  but  this  term 
had  been  familiar  in  Italy  long  before  Caesar  had  estab- 
lished Roman  power  over  the  great  region  between  the 
German  forests  and  the  sea  that  he  tersely  described  as 
Omnia  Gallia;  and  it  seems  to  have  originated  in  the  fol- 
lowing way: 

About  i  ioo  B.  C.  two  wild  tribes,  the  Umbrians  and 
the  Oscans,  swept  over  the  mountains  from  the  northeast, 
and  took  possession  of  northern  Italy.  These  invaders 
were  Nordics,  and  used  an  antique  form  of  Teutonic 
speech.  They  were  resisted,  attacked,  and  finally  over- 
whelmed by  the  Etruscans,  who  about  800  B.  C,  when 
Etruria  was  at  the  height  of  its  power,  extended  their 
rule  to  the  Alps  and  the  Umbrian  State  disappeared.  In 
the  sixth  century  new  hordes,  calling  themselves  Kymri, 
coming  from  the  west,  and  speaking  Keltic  dialects, 
swarmed  into  northern  Italy  from  the  present  France. 


The  harried  people  north  of  the  Po,  themselves  mostly 
descendants  of  the  earlier  invasion,  spoke  of  these  raiders 
by  an  old  Teutonic  epithet  which  the  Romans  heard  and 
wrote  as  Gall  us,  the  meaning  of  which  was  "stranger" — 
in  this  case  "the  enemy." 

The  word  G alius,  Gaul  or  a  Gaul,  then,  was  an  ancient 
Teutonic  epithet  inherited  by  the  Romans  from  the 
Etruscans,  and  had  in  its  origin  no  relation  to  gallns, 
the  lord  of  the  poultry-yard.  It  is  most  likely,  indeed, 
that  the  term  was  given  in  contempt,  as  the  Greeks  called 
foreigners  "barbarians"  because  they  spoke  some  language 
which  the  Greeks  did  not  understand;  for  the  occupants 
of  the  valley  of  the  Po  at  that  time  were  of  truly  Ger- 
manic descent,  and  did  not  regard  the  round-headed, 
Alpine  "Kelts"  as  kin  in  any  sense,  but  rather  as  ancient 
foes.  What  the  word  on  their  lips  actually  was  no  one 
knows ;  but  it  seems  to  have  had  a  root  gal  or  vol,  inter- 
changeable in  the  sound  (to  non-native  ears)  of  its  initial 
letter,  whence  it  appears  that  Galatai,  Gael,  Valais, 
Walloon,  and  similar  names  connected  with  Keltic  history 
are  allied  in  root-derivation.  Wales,  for  example,  to  the 
early  Teutonic  immigrants  into  Britain  was  the  country 
of  the  Wealas,  i.e.,  the  "foreigners"  (who  were  Gaulish, 
Keltic-speaking  Kymri)  ;  and  the  English  are  not  yet 
quite  free  from  that  view  of  the  Welsh. 

The  opportunity  to  pun  with  gallus,  a  cock,  is  evident, 
just  as  was  a  bitter  pun  current  in  Martial's  time  between 
Gallia,  a.  female  Gaul  and  gallia,  a  gall-nut ;  but  in  all  this 
there  is  nothing  to  answer  the  question  why  the  pun  of 
which  we  are  in  search — if  there  was  such  a  pun — has 
endured  so  long.  I  think  the  answer  lies  in  certain  appear- 
ances and  customs  of  the  Keltic  warriors. 



Plutarch,  in  his  biography  of  Caius  Marius,  describes 
the  Kymri  fought  by  Marius,  years  before  Caesar's 
campaigns,  as  wearing  helmets  surmounted  by  animal 
effigies  of  various  kinds,  and  many  tall  feathers. 
Diodorus  says  the  Gauls  had  red  hair,  and  made  it  redder 
by  dyeing  it  with  lime.  This  fierce  and  flowing  red  head- 
dress must  have  appeared  much  like  a  cock's  comb,  to 
which  the  vainglorious  strutting  of  the  barbarians  added 
a  most  realistic  touch  in  the  eyes  of  the  disciplined  legion- 
aries. Later,  the  Roman  authorities  in  Gaul  minted  a  coin 
or  coins  bearing  a  curious  representation  of  a  Gaulish 
helmet  bearing  a  cock  on  its  crest,  illustrations  of  which 
are  printed  by  G.  R.  Rothery  in  his  A  B  C  of  Heraldry. 
Rothery  also  states  that  the  bird  appears  on  Gallo-Roman 
sculptures.  Another  writer  asserts  that  Julius  Caesar 
records  that  those  Gauls  that  he  encountered  fought 
under  a  cock-standard,  which  he  regarded  as  associated 
with  a  religious  cult,  but  I  have  been  unable  to  verify  this 
interesting  reference.  Caesar  does  mention  in  his  Com- 
mentaries that  the  Gauls  were  fierce  fighters,  and  that 
one  of  their  methods  in  personal  combat  was  skilful  kick- 
ing, like  a  game-cock's  use  of  its  spurs — a  trick  still  em- 
ployed by  French  rowdies,  and  known  as  la  savate.  In 
the  Romance  speech  of  the  south  of  France  chanticleer 
is  still  gall. 

The  question  arises  here  in  the  mind  of  the  naturalist: 
If  the  aboriginal  Gauls  really  bore  a  "cock"  on  their 
banners  and  wore  its  feathers  in  their  helmets  (as  the 
Alpine  regiments  in  Italy  now  wear  chanticleer's  tail- 
plumes),  what  bird  was  it?  They  did  not  then  possess 
the  Oriental  domestic  fowls  to  which  the  name  properly 
belongs,  and  had  nothing  among  their  wild  birds  re- 
sembling it  except  grouse.    One  of  these  wild  grouse  is 


the  great  black  capercaille,  a  bold,  handsome  bird  of 
the  mountain  forests,  noted  for  its  habit  in  spring  of 
mounting  a  prominent  tree  and  issuing  a  loud  challenge  to 
all  rivals ;  and  one  of  its  gaudy  feathers  is  still  the  favor- 
ite ornament  for  his  hat  of  the  Tyrolean  mountaineer. 
By  the  way,  the  cockade,  that  figured  so  extensively  as 
a  badge  in  the  period  of  the  French  Revolution  was  so 
called  because  of  its  resemblance  to  a  cock's  comb. 

Now  comes  a  break  of  several  centuries  in  the  record, 
illuminated  by  only  a  brief  note  in  La  Rousse's  Encyclo- 
pedic, that  in  12 14,  after  the  Dauphin  du  Viennois  had 
distinguished  himself  in  combat  with  the  English,  an 
order  of  knights  was  formed  styled  L'Ordre  du  Coq;  and 
that  a  white  cock  became  an  emblem  of  the  dauphins  of 
the  Viennois  line. 

The  cock  did  not  appear  as  a  blazon  when,  after  the 
Crusades,  national  coats-of-arms  were  being  devised; 
nevertheless  the  le  coq  de  France  was  not  forgotten,  for 
it  was  engraved  on  a  medal  struck  to  celebrate  the  birth 
of  Louis  XIII  ( 1 60 1 ) .  Then  came  the  Revolution,  when 
the  old  regime  was  overthrown;  and  in  1792  the  First 
Republic  put  the  cock  on  its  escutcheon  and  on  fts  flag 
in  place  of  the  lilies  of  the  fallen  dynasty.  When  this 
uprising  of  the  people  had  been  suppressed,  and  Napoleon 
I  had  mounted  the  throne,  in  1804,  he  substituted  for  it 
the  Roman  eagle,  which  he  had  inherited  from  his  con- 
quests in  Italy  and  Austria,  and  which  was  appropriate 
to  his  ambitious  designs  for  world  domination.  This  re- 
mained until  Napoleon  went  to  Elba,  and  then  Louis 
XVIII  brought  back  for  a  short  time  the  Bourbon  lilies ; 
yet  medals  and  cartoons  of  the  early  Napoleonic  era 
depict  the  Gallic  cock  chasing  a  runaway  lion  of  Castile 
or  a  fleeing  Austrian  eagle,  showing  plainly  what  was 


the  accepted  symbol  of  French  power  in  the  eyes  of  the 
common  folks  of  France.  One  medal  bore  the  motto 
Je  veille  pour  le  nation. 

Napoleon  soon  returned  from  Elba  only  to  be  extin- 
guished at  Waterloo,  after  which,  during  the  regime  of 
Louis  Philippe,  the  figure  of  the  Gallic  cock  was  again 
mounted  on  the  top  of  the  regimental  flagstaffs  in  place 
of  the  gilded  eagle;  an  illustration  of  this  finial  is  given 
in  Armories  et  Drapeaux  Frangais.  Louis  Philippe  could 
do  this  legitimately,  according  to  Rothery  and  others, 
because  this  bird  was  the  crest  of  his  family — the  Bour- 
bons— in  their  early  history  in  the  south  of  France.  The 
Gallic  cock  continued  to  perch  on  the  banner-poles  until 
the  foundation  of  the  second  Empire  under  Louis 
Napoleon  in  1852.  Since  then  the  "tricolor,"  originating 
in  1789  as  the  flag  of  the  National  Guard,  and  dispensing 
with  all  devices,  has  waved  over  France.  Officially  bold 
chanticleer  was  thus  dethroned;  but  in  the  late  World 
War,  as  in  all  previous  periods  of  public  excitement,  the 
ancient  image  of  French  nationality  has  been  revived,  as 
the  illustrated  periodicals  and  books  of  the  time  show; 
and,  much  as  they  revere  the  tricolor,  the  soldiers  still  feel 
that  it  is  le  coq  Gaulois  that  in  19 18  again  struck  down 
the  black  eagles  of  their  ancient  foes. 

Juvenal's  sixth  Satire,  in  which  he  castigates  the 
Roman  women  of  his  day  for  their  sins  and  follies,  con- 
tains a  line,  thrown  in  as  a  mere  side-remark — 

Rara  avis  in  terris,  negroque  similima  cygno — 

which  has  become  the  most  memorable  line  in  the  whole 
homily.  It  has  been  variously  translated,  most  literally, 
perhaps,  by  Madan:    "A  rare  bird  in  the  earth,  and  very 


like  a  black  swan."  The  comparison  was  meant  to  indi- 
cate something  improbable  to  the  point  of  absurdity;  and 
in  that  sense  has  rara  avis  been  used  ever  since. 

For  more  than  fifteen  hundred  years  Juvenal's  expres- 
sion for  extreme  rarity  held  good;  but  on  January  6, 
1697,  trie  Dutch  navigator  Willem  de  Vlaming,  visiting 
the  southwestern  coast  of  Australia,  sent  two  boats  ashore 
to  explore  the  present  harbor  of  Perth.  "There  their 
crews  first  saw  two  and  then  more  black  swans,  of  which 
they  caught  four,  taking  two  of  them  alive  to  Batavia; 
and  Valentyne,  who  several  years  later  recounted  this 
voyage,  gives  in  his  work  a  plate  representing  the  ship, 
boats  and  birds  at  the  mouth  of  what  is  now  known  from 
this  circumstance  as  Swan  River,  the  most  important 
stream  of  the  thriving  colony  now  State  of  Western 
Australia,  which  has  adopted  this  very  bird  as  its  armorial 

Another  Australian  bird,  that,  like  the  black  swan,  has 
obtained  a  picturesque  immortality  in  a  coat-of-arms ; 
and  on  postage  stamps,  is  the  beautiful  lyre-bird,  first  dis- 
covered in  New  South  Wales  in  1789,  and  now  a  feature 
in  the  armorial  bearings  of  that  State  in  the  Australian 
Commonwealth.  New  Zealand's  stamps  show  the  apteryx 
(kiwi)  and  emeu. 

One  might  extend  this  chapter  by  remarking  on  various 
birds  popularly  identified  with  certain  countries,  as  the 
ibis  with  Egypt,  the  nightingale  with  England  and  Persia, 
the  condor  with  Peru,  the  red  grouse  with  Scotland,  the 
ptarmigan  with  Newfoundland,  and  so  on.  Then  might 
be  given  a  list  of  birds  wThose  feathers  belonged  ex- 
clusively to  chieftanship,  and  so  had  a  sort  of  tribal  sig- 
nificance. Thus  in  Hawaii  a  honeysucker,  the  mamo, 
furnished  for  the  adornment  of  chiefs  alone  the  rich 


yellow  feathers  of  which  "royal"  cloaks  were  made;  the 
Inca  "emperors"  of  Peru,  before  the  Spanish  conquest,  re- 
served to  themselves  the  rose-tinted  plumage  of  an 
Andean  water-bird;  an  African  chief  affected  the  long 
tail-plumes  of  the  widowbird — and  so  forth. 

Only  one  of  these  locally  revered  birds  entices  me  to 
linger  a  moment — the  nightingale,  beloved  of  English 
poets,  whose  oriental  equivalent  is  the  Persian  bulbul. 
The  mingled  tragedies  of  the  nightingale  and  the  swallow 
form  the  theme  of  one  of  the  most  famous  as  well  as 
sentimental  legends  of  Greek  mythology.     These  myths, 
strangely  confused  by  different  narrators,  have  been  un- 
ravelled by  the  scholarly  skill  of  Miss  Margaret  Verrall 
in  her  Mythology  of  Ancient  Athens;108  and  her  analysis 
throws  light  on  the  way  the  Greek  imagination,  from  pre- 
historic bards  down  to  the  vase-decorators  of  the  classic 
era,   and  to   the  dramatists  Sophocles,   ^Eschylus,   and 
Aristophanes,  dealt  with  birds — a  very  curious  study. 
Miss  Verrall  reminds  us  that  a  word  is  necessary  as  to 
the  names  of  the  Attic  tale.     "We  are  accustomed,  bur- 
dened as  we  are  with  Ovidian  association,  to  think  of 
Philomela  as  the  nightingale.     Such  was  not  the  version 
of  Apollodorus,  nor,  so  far  as  I  know,  of  any  earlier 
Greek  writer.    According  to  Apollodorus,  Procne  became 
the  nightingale  ('a^Swv)  and  Philomela  the  swallow  (x^8cov) 
It  was  Philomela  who  had  her  tongue  cut  out,  a  tale  that 
would  never  have  been  told  of  the  nightingale,  but  which 
fitted  well  with  the  short  restless  chirp  of  the  swallow. 
To   speak  a   barbarian   tongue   was   'to   mutter   like   a 
swallow.'  " 

But  there  has  arisen  in  Persia  a  literature  of  the  night- 
ingale, or  "bulbul,"  springing  from  a  pathetic  legend — 
if  it  is  not  simply  poetic  fancy — that  as  the  bird  pours 
forth  its  song  "in  a  continuous  strain  of  melody"  it  is 


pressing  its  breast  against  a  rose-thorn  to  ease  its  heart's 
pain.  Giles  Fletcher,  who  had  been  attached  to  one  of 
Queen  Elizabeth's  missions  to  Russia,  and  perhaps  in  that 
way  picked  up  the  suggestion,  used  it  in  one  of  his  love- 
poems  in  a  stanza  that  is  a  very  queer  mixture  of  two 
distinct  fancies  and  a  wrong  sex,  for  the  thrush  that 
sings  is  not  the  one  that  has  any  occasion  to  weep  about 

So  Philomel,  perched  on  an  aspen  sprig, 

Weeps  all  the  night  her  lost  virginity, 
And  sings  her  sad  tale  to  the  merry  twig, 

That  dances  at  such  joyful  mystery. 

Ne  ever  lets  sweet  rest  invade  her  eye, 
But  leaning  on  a  thorn  her  dainty  chest 
For  fear  soft  sleep  should  steal  into  her  breast 

Expresses  in  her  song  grief  not  to  be  expressed. 

The  poetic  vision  over  which  Hafiz  and  others  have 
sighed  and  sung  in  the  fragrant  gardens  of  Shiraz  seems 
to  owe  nothing  to  the  Greek  tale,  and  to  them  the  plain- 
tive note  in  the  bird's  melody  is  not  an  expression  of 
bitter  woe,  but  only  bespeaks  regret  whenever  a  rose  is 
plucked.  They  will  tell  you  tearfully  that  the  bulbul  will 
hover  about  a  rosebush  in  spring,  till,  overpowered  by 
the  sweetness  of  its  blossoms,  the  distracted  bird  falls 
senseless  to  the  ground.  The  rose  is  supposed  to  burst 
into  flower  at  the  opening  song  of  its  winged  lover.  You 
may  place  a  handful  of  fragrant  herbs  and  flowers  before 
the  nightingale,  say  the  Persian  poets,  yet  he  wishes  not 
in  his  constant  and  faithful  heart  for  more  than  the 
sweet  breath  of  his  beloved  rose — 

Though  rich  the  spot 
With  every  flower  the  earth  has  got, 
What  is  it  to  the  nightingale 
If  there  his  darling  rose  is  not. 


But  romantic  stories  of  the  association  of  the  queen  of 
flowers  with  the  prince  of  birds  are  many,  and  the  reader 
may  easily  find  more  of  them.  In  a  legend  told  by  the 
Persian  poet  Attarall  the  birds  once  appeared  before 
King  Solomon  and  complained  that  they  could  not  sleep 
because  of  the  nightly  wailings  of  the  bulbul,  who  ex- 
cused himself  on  the  plea  that  his  love  for  the  rose  was 
the  cause  of  irrepressible  grief.  This  is  the  tradition  to 
which  Byron  alludes  in  The  Giaour: 

The  rose  o'er  crag  or  vale, 
Sultana  of  the  nightingale, 

The  maid  for  whom  his  melody, 
His  thousand  songs,  are  heard  on  high, 
Blooms  blushing  to  her  lover's  tale — 
His  queen,  the  garden  queen,  the  rose, 
Unbent  by  winds,  unchilled  by  snows. 



tMONG  the  many  proverbial  expressions  relating  to 
r\  birds,  none,  perhaps,  is  more  often  on  the  tongue 
than  that  which  implies  that  the  ostrich  has  the 
habit  of  sticking  its  head  in  the  sand  and  regarding  itself 
as  thus  made  invisible.  The  oldest  written  authority 
known  to  me  for  this  notion  is  the  Historical  Library  of 
Diodorus  Siculus.  Describing  Arabia  and  its  products 
Diodorus  writes: 

It  produces  likewise  Beasts  of  a  double  nature  and  mixt 
Shape;  amongst  whom  are  those  that  are  called  Strathocameli, 
who  have  the  Shape  both  of  a  Camel  and  an  Ostrich  ...  so  that 
this  creature  seems  both  terrestrial  and  volatile,  a  Land-Beast 
and  a  Bird:  But  being  not  able  to  fly  by  reason  of  the  Bulk 
of  her  body,  she  runs  upon  the  Ground  as  Swift  as  if  she  flew 
in  the  air ;  and  when  she  is  pursued  by  Horsemen  with  her  Feet  she 
hurls  the  Stones  that  are  under  her,  and  many  times  kills  the 
Pursuers  with  the  Blows  and  Strokes  they  receive.  When  she 
is  near  being  taken,  she  thrusts  her  Head  under  a  Shrub  or 
some  such  like  Cover;  not  (as  some  suppose)  through  Folly  or 
Blockishness,  as  if  she  would  not  see  or  be  seen  by  them,  but 
because  her  head  is  the  tenderest  Part  of  her  Body.109 

It  would  appear  from  this  that  Diodorus  was  anticipat- 
ing me  by  quoting  an  ancient  legend  only  to  show  how 
erroneous  it  was;  but  the  notion  has  survived  his  expla- 
nation, and  supplies  a  figure  of  speech  most  useful  to 
polemic  editors  and  orators,  nor  does  anyone  seem  to  care 
whether  or  not  it  expresses  a  truth.     The  only  founda- 


tion  I  can  find  or  imagine  for  the  origin  of  this  so  persis- 
tent and  popular  error  in  ornithology  is  that  when  the 
bird  is  brooding  or  resting  it  usually  stretches  its  head 
and  neck  along  the  ground,  and  is  likely  to  keep  this  pros- 
trate position  in  cautious  stillness  as  long  as  it  thinks  it 
has  not  been  observed  by  whatever  it  fears.  The  futile 
trick  of  hiding  its  head  alone  has  been  attributed  to  var- 
ious other  birds  equally  innocent. 

Ostriches  in  ancient  times  roamed  the  deserts  of  the 
East  from  the  Atlas  to  the  Indus,  and  they  came  to  hold 
a  very  sinister  position  in  the  estimation  of  the  early  in- 
habitants of  Mesopotamia,  as  we  learn  from  the  seals  and 
tablets  of  Babylonia.  There  the  eagle  had  become  the 
type  of  the  principle  of  Good  in  the  universe,  as  is  else- 
where described ;  and  a  composite  monster,  to  which  the 
general  term  "dragon"  is  applied,  represented  the  prin- 
ciple of  Evil.  The  earliest  rude  conception  of  this 
monster  gave  it  a  beast's  body  (sometimes  a  crocodile's 
but  usually  a  lion's),  always  with  a  bird's  wings,  tail,  etc. 
"From  conceiving  of  the  dragon  as  a  monster  having  a 
bird's  head  as  well  as  wings  and  tail,  and  feathers  over 
the  body,  the  transition,"  as  Dr.  Ward  23  remarks,  "was 
not  difficult  to  regard  it  entirely  as  a -bird.  But  for  this 
the  favorite  form  was  that  of  an  ostrich  ...  the  largest 
bird  known,  a  mysterious  inhabitant  of  the  deserts,  swift 
to  escape  and  dangerous  to  attack.  No  other  bird  was 
so  aptly  the  emblem  of  power  for  mischief.  .  .  .  Ac- 
cordingly, in  the  period  of  about  the  eighth  to  the  seventh 
centuries,  B.  C,  the  contest  of  Marduk,  representing 
Good  in  the  form  of  a  human  hero  or  sometimes  as  an 
eagle,  with  an  ostrich,  or  often  a  pair  of  them,  repre- 
senting the  evil  demon  Tiamat,  was  a  favorite  subject 


with  Babylonian  artists  in  the  valleys  of  the  Tigris  and 

In  view  of  their  inheritance  of  these  ideas  it  is  no 
wonder  that  Oriental  writers  far  more  recent  told  strange 
tales  about  this  bird,  especially  as  to  its  domestic  habits, 
as  is  reflected  in  the  book  of  Job,  where  a  versified  render- 
ing of  one  passage  (xxxix,  15,  16)  runs  thus: 

Gavest  thou  the  goodly  wings  unto  the  peacocks? 

Or  wings  and  feathers  unto  the  ostrich? 

Which  leaveth  her  eggs  in  the  earth, 

And  warmeth  them  in  the  dust, 

And  forgetteth  that  the  foot  may  crush  them, 

Or  that  the  wild  beast  may  break  them? 

She  is  hardened  against  her  young  ones 

As  though  they  were  not  hers: 

Because  God  hath  deprived  her  of  wisdom, 

Neither  hath  he  imparted  to  her  understanding. 

This  was  more  elegant  than  exact,  for  ostriches  are  ex- 
ceedingly watchful  and  patient  parents,  as  they  have  need 
to  be,  considering  the  perilous  exposure  of  their  nests  on 
the  ground,  and  the  great  number  of  enemies  to  which 
both  eggs  and  young  are  exposed  in  the  wilderness. 
Major  S.  Hamilton,110  than  whom  there  is  no  better  au- 
thority, testifies  to  this.  "The  hen-bird,"  he  says,  "sits 
on  the  eggs  by  day  and  the  cock  relieves  her  at  night, 
so  that  the  eggs  are  never  left  unguarded  during  incuba- 
tion." The  chicks  are  able  to  take  care  of  themselves 
after  a  day  or  two,  and  there  is  no  more  foundation  in 
fact  for  the  Biblical  charge  of  cruelty  than  for  that  other 
Oriental  fable  that  this  bird  hatches  its  eggs  not  by  brood- 
ing but  by  the  rays  of  warmth  and  light  from  her  eyes. 
"Both  birds  are  employed,"  the  fable  reads,  "for  if  the 
gaze  is  suspended  for  only  one  moment  the  eggs  are 


addled,  whereupon  these  bad  ones  are  at  once  broken." 
It  is  to  this  fiction  that  Southey  refers  in  Thalaba,  the 

With  such  a  look  as  fables  say 

The   mother   ostrich   fixes   on   her   eggs, 

Till  that  intense  affection 

Kindle  its  light  of  life. 

Hence,  as  Burnaby  tells  us,  ostrich  eggs  were  hung  in 
some  Mohammedan  mosques  as  a  reminder  that  "God 
will  break  evil-doers  as  the  ostrich  her  worthless  eggs." 
Professor  E.  A.  Grosvenor  notes  in  his  elaborate  volumes 
on   Constantinople,  that  in  the   turbeh  of   Eyouk,  the 
holiest  building  and  shrine  in  the  Ottoman  world,  are 
suspended  "olive  lamps  and  ostrich  eggs,  the  latter  sig- 
nificant of  patience  and   faith."  Their  meanings  or  at 
any  rate  the  interpretations  vary  locally,  but  the  shells 
themselves  are  favorite  mosque  ornaments  all  over  Islam, 
and  an  extensive  trans-Saharan  caravan-trade  in  them 
still  exists.     Ostrich  eggs  as  well  as  feathers  were  im- 
ported into  ancient  Egypt  and  Phoenicia  from  the  Land 
of  Punt    (Somaliland)    and  their  shells  have  been  re- 
covered from  early  tombs,  or  sometimes  clay  models  of 
them,  as  at  Hu,  where  Petrie  found  an  example  decorated 
with  an  imitation  of  the  network  of  cords  by  which  it 
could  be  carried  about,  just  as  is  done  to  this  day  by  the 
Central-African  negroes,  who  utilize  these  shells  as  water- 
bottles,  and  carry  a  bundle  of  them  in  a  netting  bag. 
Other  examples  were  painted;  and  Wilkinson  surmises 
that  these  were  suspended  in  the  temples  of  the  ancient 
Egyptians  as  they  now  are  in  those  of  the  Copts.     The 
Punic  tombs  about  Carthage,  and  those  of  Mycenae,  in 
Greece,  have  yielded  painted  shells  of  these  eggs;  and 


five  were  exhumed  from  an  Etruscan  tomb,  ornamented 
with  bands  of  fantastic  figures  of  animals  either  engraved 
or  painted  on  the  shell,  the  incised  lines  filled  with  gold ; 
what  purpose  they  served,  or  whether  any  religious  sig- 
nificance was  attached  to  them,  is  not  known.  Eggs  are 
still  to  be  found  in  many  Spanish  churches  hanging  near 
the  Altar:  they  are  usually  goose-eggs,  but  may  be  a 
reflection  of  the  former  Moorish  liking  for  those  of  the 
ostrich  in  their  houses  of  worship. 

To  return  for  a  moment  to  the  notion  that  the  ostrich 
breaks  any  eggs  that  become  addled  (by  the  way,  how 
could  the  bird  know  which  were  "gone  bad"  ?),  let  me  add 
a  preposterous  variation  of  this,  quoted  from  a  German 
source  by  Goldsmith  32  in  relation  to  the  rhea,  the  South 
American  cousin  of  the  ostrich — all,  of  course,  arrant 

The  male  compels  twenty  or  more  females  to  lay  their  eggs 
in  one  nest;  he  then,  when  they  have  done  laying,  chases  them 
away  and  places  himself  upon  the  eggs;  however,  he  takes  the 
singular  precaution  of  laying  two  of  the  number  aside,  which 
he  does  not  sit  upon.  When  the  young  one  comes  forth  these 
two  eggs  are  addled;  which  the  male  having  foreseen,  breaks 
one  and  then  the  other,  upon  which  multitudes  of  flies  are 
found  to  settle;  and  these  supply  the  young  brood  with  a 
sufficiency  of  provision  till  they  are  able  to  shift  for  themselves. 

Another  popular  saying  is:  "I  have  the  digestion  of 
an  ostrich !" 

What  does  this  mean?  Ancient  books  went  so  far  as 
to  say  that  ostriches  subsisted  on  iron  alone,  although 
they  did  not  take  the  trouble  to  explain  where  in  the 
desert  they  could  obtain  this  vigorous  diet.  A  picture  in 
one  of  the  Beast  Books  gives  a  recognizable  sketch  of 
the  bird  with  a  great  key  in  its  bill  and  near  by  a  horse- 


shoe  for  a  second  course.  In  heraldry,  which  is  a 
museum  of  antique  notions,  the  ostrich,  when  used  as  a 
bearing,  is  always  depicted  as  holding  in  its  mouth  a 
Passion-nail  (emblem  of  the  Church  militant),  or  a  horse- 
shoe (reminder  of  knightly  Prowess  on  horseback),  or 
a  key  (signifying  religious  and  temporal  power). 

An  amusing  passage  in  Sir  Thomas  Browne's  famous 
book,  Common  and  Vulgar  Errors 33 — which  is  a  queer 
combination  of  sagacity,  ignorance,  superstition  and 
credulity — is  his  solemn  argument  against  the  belief 
prevalent  in  his  day  (1605-82)  that  ostriches  ate  iron; 
but  he  quotes  his  predecessors  from  Aristotle  down  to 
show  how  many  philosophers  have  given  it  credence  with- 
out proof.  The  great  misfortune  of  medieval  thinkers 
appears  to  have  been  that  they  were  bound  hand  and  foot 
to  the  dead  knowledge  contained  in  ancient  Greek  and 
Latin  books — a  sort  of  mental  mortmain  that  blocked 
any  progress  in  science.  They  made  of  Aristotle, 
especially,  a  sort  of  sacred  fetish,  whose  statements  and 
conclusions  must  not  be  "checked"  by  any  fresh  observa- 
tion or  experiment.  Browne  was  one  of  the  first  to  ex- 
hibit a  little  independence  of  judgment,  and  to  suspect 
that  possibly,  as  Lowell  puts  it,  "they  didn't  know  every- 
thing down  in  Judee." 

"As  for  Pliny,"  Sir  Thomas  informs  us,  "he  saith 
plainly  that  the  ostrich  concocteth  whatever  it  eateth. 
Now  the  Doctor  acknowledgeth  it  eats  iron:  ergo,  ac- 
cording to  Pliny  it  concocts  iron.  Africandus  tells  us 
that  it  devours  iron.  Farnelius  is  so  far  from  extenua- 
ting the  matter  that  he  plainly  confirms  it,  and  shows  that 
this  concoction  is  performed  by  the  nature  of  its  whole 
essence.  As  for  Riolanus,  his  denial  without  ground  we 
regard  not.     Albertus  speaks  not  of  iron  but  of  stones 


which  it  swallows  and  excludes  again  without  nutriment." 
This  is  an  excellent  example  of  the  way  those  old 
fellows  considered  a  matter  of  fact  as  if  it  were  one  of 
opinion — as  if  the  belief  or  non-belief  of  a  bunch  of 
ancients,  who  knew  little  or  nothing  of  the  subject,  made 
a  thing  so  or  not  so.  Sir  Thomas  seems  to  have  been 
struggling  out  of  this  fog  of  metaphysics  and  shyly 
squinting  at  the  facts  of  nature ;  yet  it  is  hard  to  follow 
his  logic  to  the  conclusion  that  the  allegation  of  iron-eat- 
ing and  "concocting"  (by  which  I  suppose  digestion  is 
meant)  is  not  true,  but  he  was  right.  The  poets,  how- 
ever, clung  to  the  story.  John  Skelton  (1460-1529)  in 
his  long  poem  Phyllip  Sparrow  writes  of 

The  estryge  that  wyll  eate 

An  horshowe  so  great 

In  the  stede  of  meate 

Such  feruent  heat 

His   stomake   doth   freat    [fret]. 

Ben  Johnson  makes  one  of  his  characters  in  Every  Man 
in  his  Humor  assure  another,  who  declares  he  could  eat 
the  very  sword-hilts  for  hunger,  that  this  is  evidence  that 
he  has  good  digestive  power — "You  have  an  ostrich's 
stomach."  And  in  Shakespeare's  Henry  VI  is  the  re- 
mark: "I'll  make  thee  eat  iron  like  an  ostrich,  and 
swallow  my  sword." 

Readers  of  Goldsmith's  Animated  Nature,32  published 
more  than  a  century  later  (1774)  as  a  popular  book  of 
instruction  in  natural  history  (about  which  he  knew 
nothing  by  practical  observation  outside  of  an  Irish 
county  or  two),  learned  that  ostriches  "will  devour 
leather,  hair,  glass,  stones,  anything  that  is  given  them, 
but  all  metals  lose  a  part  of  their  weight  and  often  the 


extremities  of  the  figure."  That  the  people  remembered 
this  is  shown  by  the  fact  that  zoological  gardens  have  lost 
many  specimens  of  these  birds,  which  seem  to  have  a  very 
weak  sense  of  taste,  because  of  their  swallowing  copper 
coins  and  other  metallic  objects  fed  to  them  by  experi- 
mental visitors,  which  they  could  neither  assimilate  nor 
get  rid  of.  It  is  quite  likely  that  the  bird's  reputation  for 
living  on  iron  was  derived  from  similarly  feeding  the  cap- 
tive specimens  kept  for  show  in  Rome  and  various  East- 
ern cities,  the  fatal  results  of  which  were  unnoticed  by 
the  populace.  The  wild  ostrich  contents  itself  with  tak- 
ing into  its  gizzard  a  few  small  stones,  perhaps  picked 
up  and  swallowed  accidentally,  which  assist  it  in  grinding 
hard  food,  as  is  the  habit  of  many  ground-feeding  fowls. 
Much  the  same  delusion  exists  with  regard  to  the  emeu. 

If  I  were  to  repeat  a  tithe  of  the  absurdities  and 
medical  superstitions  (or  pure  quackery)  related  of  birds 
in  the  "bestiaries,"  as  the  books  of  the  later  medieval  pe- 
riod answering  to  our  natural  histories  were  named,  the 
reader  would  soon  tire  of  my  pages;  but  partly  as  a 
sample,  and  partly  because  the  pelican  is  not  only 
familiar  in  America  but  is  constantly  met  in  proverbs,  in 
heraldry,  and  in  ecclesiastical  art  and  legend,  I  think  it 
worth  while  to  give  some  early  explanations  of  the 
curious  notion  expressed  in  the  heraldic  phrase  "the 
pelican  in  its  piety."  It  stands  for  a  very  ancient  mis- 
understanding of  the  action  of  a  mother-pelican  alight- 
ing on  her  nest,  and  opening  her  beak  so  that  her  young 
ones  may  pick  from  her  pouch  the  predigested  fish  she 
offers  them  within  it.  As  the  interior  of  her  mouth  is 
reddish,  she  appeared  to  some  imaginative  observer  long 
ago  to  display  a  bleeding  breast  at  which  her  nestlings 
were  plucking.    Now  observe  how,  according  to  Hazlitt,84 


that  medieval  nature- fakir,  Philip  de  Thaum,  who  wrote 
The  Anglo-Norman  Bestiary  about  1120,  embroiders  his 
ignorance  to  gratify  the  appetite  of  his  age  for  marvels — 
sensations,  as  we  say  nowadays — and  so  sell  his  book: 

"Of  such  a  nature  it  is,"  he  says  of  the  pelican,  "when  it  comes 
to  its  young  birds,  and  they  are  great  and  handsome,  and  it 
will  fondle  them,  cover  them  with  its  wings;  the  little  birds 
are  fierce,  take  to  pecking  it — desire  to  eat  it  and  pick  out  its 
two  eyes;  then  it  pecks  and  takes  them,  and  slays  them  with 
torment;  and  thereupon  leaves  them — leaves  them  lying  dead — 
then  returns  on  the  third  day,  is  grieved  to  find  them  dead,  and 
makes  such  lamentation,  when  it  sees  its  little  birds  dead,  that 
with  its  beak  it  strikes  its  body  that  the  blood  issues  forth;  the 
blood  goes  dropping,  and  falls  on  its  young  birds — the  blood 
has  such  quality  that  by  it  they  come  to  life " 

and  so  on,  all  in  sober  earnest.  But  he  made  a  botch  of 
it,  for  earlier  and  better  accounts  show  that  the  male 
bird  kills  the  youngsters  because  when  they  begin  to  grow 
large  they  rebel  at  his  control  and  provoke  him ;  when  the 
mother  returns  she  brings  them  to  life  by  pouring  over 
them  her  blood.  Moreover,  there  crept  in  a  further  cor- 
ruption of  the  legend  to  the  effect  that  the  nestlings  were 
killed  by  snakes,  as  Drayton  writes  in  his  Noah's  Flood: 

By  them  there  sat  the  loving  pellican 

Whose  young  ones,  poison'd  by  the  serpent's  sting, 

With  her  own  blood  again  to  life  doth  bring. 

St.  Jerome  seems  to  have  had  this  version  in  mind 
when  he  made  the  Christian  application,  saying  that  as 
the  pelican's  young,  "killed  by  serpents,"  were  saved  by 
the  mother's  blood,  so  was  the  salvation  by  the  Christ  re- 
lated to  those  dead  in  sin.  This  point  is  elaborated  some- 
what in  my  chapter  on  Symbolism. 


Before  I  leave  this  bird  I  want  to  quote  a  lovely  para- 
graph on  pelican  habits,  far  more  modern  than  anything 
"medieval,"  for  it  is  taken  from  the  Arctic  Zoology 
(1784)  of  Thomas  Pennant,  who  was  a  good  naturalist, 
but  evidently  a  little  credulous,  although  the  first  half  of 
the  quotation  does  not  overstrain  our  faith.  He  is  speak- 
ing of  pelicans  that  he  saw  in  Australia,  and  explains: 

They  feed  upon  fish,  which  they  take  sometimes  by  plunging 
from  a  great  height  in  the  air  and  seizing  like  the 
gannet;  at  other  times  they  fish  in  concert,  swimming 
in  flocks,  and  forming  a  large  circle  in  the  great  rivers 
which  they  gradually  contract,  beating  the  water  with  their 
wings  and  feet  in  order  to  drive  the  fish  into  the  centre ;  which 
when  they  approach  they  open  their  vast  mouths  and  fill  their 
pouches  with  their  prey,  then  incline  their  bills  to  empty  the 
bag  of  the  waters ;  after  which  they  swim  to  shore  and  eat  their 
booty  in  quiet.  ...  It  is  said  that  when  they  make  their  nests 
in  the  dry  deserts,  they  carry  the  water  to  their  young  in  the 
vast  pouches,  and  that  the  lions  and  beasts  of  prey  come  there 
to  quench  their  thirst,  sparing  the  young,  the  cause  of  this 
salutary  provision.  Possibly  on  this  account  the  Egyptians  style 
this  bird  the  camel  of  the  river— the  Persians  tacub,  or  water- 

Now  let  us  look  at  the  Trochilus  legend,  and  trace  how 
an  African  plover  became  changed  into  an  American 
hummingbird.  The  story,  first  published  by  Herodotus, 
that  some  sort  of  bird  enters  the  mouth  of  a  Nile  crocodile 
dozing  on  the  sand  with  its  jaws  open,  and  picks  bits  of 
food  from  the  palate  and  teeth,  apparently  to  the  rep- 
tile's satisfaction,  is  not  altogether  untrue.  The  bird 
alluded  to  is  the  Egyptian  plover,  which  closely  re- 
sembles the  common  British  lapwing;  and  there  seems 
to  be  no  doubt  that  something  of  the  sort  does  really 
take  place  when  crocodiles  are  lying  with  open  mouth 
on  the  Nile  bank,  as  they  often  do.    This  lapwing  has  a 


tall,  pointed  crest  standing  up  like  a  spur  on  the  top  of 
its  head,  and  this  fact  gives  "point,"  in  more  senses  than 
one,  to  the  extraordinary  version  of  the  Herodotus  story 
in  one  of  the  old  plays,  The  White  Devil,  by  John  Web- 
ster (1612),  where  an  actor  says: 

"Stay,  my  lord !  I'll  tell  you  a  tale.  The  crocodile,  which 
lives  in  the  river  Nilus,  hath  a  worm  breeds  i'  the  teeth  of  't, 
which  puts  it  to  extreme  anguish :  a  little  bird,  no  bigger  than 
a  wren,  is  barber-surgeon  to  this  crocodile;  flies  into  the  jaws 
of  't,  picks  out  the  worm,  and  brings  present  remedy.  The  fish, 
glad  of  ease,  but  ingrateful  to  her  that  did  it,  that  the  bird  may 
not  talk  largely  of  her  abroad  for  nonpayment,  closeth  her 
chaps,  intending  to  swallow  her,  and  so  put  her  to  perpetual 
silence.  But  nature,  loathing  such  ingratitude,  hath  armed  this 
bird  with  a  quill  or  prick  on  the  head,  top  o'  the  which  wounds 
the  crocodile  i'  the  mouth,  forceth  her  open  her  bloody  prison, 
and  away  flies  the  pretty  tooth-picker  from  her  cruel  patient." 

A  most  curious  series  of  mistakes  has  arisen  around 
this  matter.  Linguists  tell  us  that  the  common  name 
among  the  ancient  Greeks  for  a  plover  was  trochilus 
(rpoxtW),  and  that  this  is  the  word  used  by  Herodotus  for 
his  crocodile-bird.  But  in  certain  passages  of  his  His- 
tory  of  Animals  Aristotle  uses  this  word  to  designate  a 
wren ;  it  has  been  supposed  that  this  was  a  copyist's  error, 
writing  carelessly  rpoxiAos  for  Vxi^0?>  but  it  was  repeated 
by  Pliny  in  recounting  what  Herodotus  had  related,  and 
this  naturally  led  to  the  statement  by  some  medieval  com- 
pilers that  the  crocodile's  tooth-cleaner  was  a  wren. 
This,  however,  is  not  the  limit  of  the  confusion,  for  when 
American  hummingbirds  became  known  in  Europe,  and 
were  placed  by  some  naturalists  of  the  17th  century  in 
the  Linnaean  genus  (Trochilus)  with  the  wrens,  one 
writer  at  least,  Paul  Lucas,  1774  (if  Brewer's  Handbook 
may  be  trusted),  asserted  that  the  hummingbird  as  well 


as  the  lapwing  entered  the  jaws  of  Egyptian  crocodiles — 
and  that  he  had  seen  them  do  it ! 

This  curious  tissue  of  right  and  wrong  was  still  fur- 
ther embroidered  by  somebody's  assertion  that  the 
diminutive  attendant's  kindly  purpose  was  "to  pick  from 
the  teeth  a  little  insect"  that  greatly  annoyed  the  huge 
reptile.  Even  Tom  Moore  knew  no  better  than  to  write 
in  Lalla  Rookh  of 

The  puny  bird  that  dares  with  pleasing  hum 
Within  the  crocodile's  stretched  jaws  to  come. 

The  full  humor  of  this  will  be  perceived  by  those  who 
remember  that  hummingbirds  are  exclusively  American — 
not  Oriental.  Finally  Linnaeus  confirmed  all  this  mixture 
of  mistakes  by  fastening  the  name  Trochilidae  on  the 
Hummingbird  family. 

Finally,  John  Josselyn,  Gent.,  in  his  Rarities  of  Nezv 
England,  calls  our  American  chimney-swift  a  "troculus," 
and  describes  its  nesting  absurdly  thus : 

The  troculus— a  small  bird,  black  and  white,  no  bigger  than 
a  swallow,  the  points  of  whose  feathers  are  sharp,  which  they 
stick  into  the  sides  of  the  chymney  (to  rest  themselves),  their 
legs  being  exceedingly  short)  where  they  breed  in  nests  made 
like  a  swallow's  nest,  but  of  a  glewy  substance;  and  which  is 
not  fastened  to  the  chymney  as  a  swallow's  nest,  but  hangs 
down  the  chymney  by  a  clew-like  string  a  yard  long.  They 
commonly  have  four  or  five  young  ones;  and  when  they  go 
away,  which  is  much  about  the  time  that  swallows  used  to  de- 
part, they  never  fail  to  throw  down  one  of  their  young  birds 
into  the  room  by  way  of  gratitude.  I  have  more  than  once  ob- 
served, that,  against  the  ruin  of  the  family,  these  birds  will 
suddenly  forsake  the  house,  and  come  no  more. 

Another  unfortunate  but  long-accepted  designation  in 
systematic  ornithology  was  attached  by  Linnaeus  to  the 


great  bird  of  paradise  in  naming  this  species  Paradisca 
apoda  (footless) ;  and  it  was  done  through  an  even  worse 
misunderstanding  than  in  the  case  of  Trochilus — or  else 
as  a  careless  joke.  It  is  true  that  at  that  time  no  perfect 
specimen  had  been  seen  in  Europe ;  yet  it  is  hard  to  under- 
stand Linne's  act,  for  he  could  not  have  put  more  faith 
in  the  alleged  natural  footlessness  of  this  bird  than  in  the 
many  other  marvelous  qualities  ascribed  to  it.  Wallace 
has  recounted  some  of  these  myths  in  his  Malay 
Archipelago  :35 

When  the  earliest  European  voyagers  reached  the  Moluccas 
in  search  of  cloves  and  nutmegs,  they  were  presented  with  the 
dried  skins  of  birds  so  strange  and  beautiful  as  to  excite  the 
admiration  even  of  those  wealth-seeking  rovers.  The  Malay 
traders  gave  them  the  name  of  "manuk  dewata,"  or  God's  birds ; 
and  the  Portuguese,  finding  they  had  no  feet  or  wings,  and  being 
unable  to  learn  anything  authentic  about  them,  called  them 
"passares  de  sol"  or  birds  of  the  sun;  while  the  learned  Dutch- 
men, who  wrote  in  Latin,  called  them  avis  paradeus  or  paradise- 
bird.  Jan  van  Linschoten  gives  these  names  in  1598,  and  tells 
las  that  no  one  has  seen  these  birds  alive,  for  they  live  in  the 
air,  always  turning  toward  the  sun,  and  never  lighting  on  the 
earth  till  they  die;  for  they  have  neither  feet  nor  wings,  as  he 
adds,  may  be  seen  by  the  birds  carried  to  India,  and  sometimes 
to  Holland,  but  being  very  costly  they  were  rarely  seen  in 
Europe.  More  than  a  hundred  years  later  Mr.  William  Fennel, 
who  accompanied  Dampier  .  .  .  saw  specimens  at  Amboyna 
and  was  told  that  they  came  to  Banda  to  eat  nutmegs,  which  in- 
toxicated them,  and  made  them  fall  senseless,  when  they  were 
killed  by  ants.  [Tavernier  explains  that  the  ants  ate  away  their 
legs — thus  accounting  for  the  footlessness.] 

It  is  to  this  nutmeg  dissipation  that  Tom  Moore  alludes 
in  Lalla  Rookh: 

Those  golden  birds  that  in  the  spice  time  drop 
About  the  gardens,  drunk  with  that  sweet  fruit 
Whose  scent  has  lured  them  o'er  the  summer  flood. 


The  unromantic  fact  was  that  the  natives  of  the  Moluccas 
then,  as  now,  after  skilfully  shooting  with  arrows  or 
blow-guns  and  skinning  the  (male)  birds,  cut  off  the  legs 
and  dusky  wings  and  folded  the  prepared  skin  about  a 
stick  run  through  the  body  and  mouth,  in  which  form 
"paradise-birds"  continued  to  come  to  millinery  markets 
in  New  York  and  London.  A  somewhat  similar  blunder 
in  respect  to  swallows  (or  swifts?)  has  given  us  in  the 
martlet,  as  a  heraldic  figure,  a  quaint  perpetuation  of  an 
error  in  natural  history.  "Even  at  the  present  day," 
remarks  Fox  Davies,111  speaking  of  England,  "it  is  popu- 
larly believed  that  the  swallow  has  no  feet  ...  at  any 
rate  the  heraldic  swallow  is  never  represented  with  feet, 
the  legs  terminating  with  the  feathers  that  cover  the 

I  do  not  know  where  Dryden  got  the  information  sug- 
gesting his  comparison,  in  Threnodia  Augustalis,  "like 
birds  of  paradise  that  lived  on  mountain  dew" ;  but  the 
idea  is  as  fanciful  as  the  modern  Malay  fiction  that  this 
bird  drops  its  egg,  which  bursts  as  it  approaches  the 
earth,  releasing  a  fully  developed  young  bird.  Another 
account  is  that  the  hen  lays  her  eggs  on  the  back  of  her 
mate.  Both  theories  are  wild  guesses  in  satisfaction  of 
ignorance,  for  no  one  yet  knows  precisely  the  breeding- 
habits  of  these  shy  forest-birds,  the  females  of  which  are 
rarely  seen.  Dryden  may  have  read  that  in  Mexico,  as 
a  Spanish  traveller  reported,  hummingbirds  live  on  dew ; 
or  he  may  have  heard  of  the  medieval  notion  that  ravens 
were  left  to  be  nourished  by  the  dews  of  heaven,  and, 
with  poetic  license  to  disregard  classification,  transferred 
the  feat  to  the  fruit-eating  birds  of  paradise. 

Next  comes  that  old  yarn  about  geese  that  grow  on 
trees.    When  or  where  it  arose  nobody  knows,  but  some- 


where  in  the  Middle  Ages,  for  Max  Miiller  quotes  a  car- 
dinal of  the  nth  century  who  represented  the  goslings 
as  bursting,  fully  fledged,  from  fruit  resembling  apples. 
A  century  later  (1187)  Giraldus  Cambrensis,  an  arch- 
deacon reproving  laxity  among  the  priests  in  Ireland,  con- 
demns the  practice  of  eating  barnacle  geese  in  Lent  on 
the  plea  that  they  are  fish;  and  soon  afterward  Innocent 
III  forbade  it  by  decree.  Queer  variants  soon  appeared. 
A  legend  relating  to  Ireland  inscribed  on  a  Genoese 
world-map,  and  described  by  Dr.  Edward  L.  Stevenson 
in  a  publication  of  The  Hispanic  Society  (New  York) 
reads:  "Certain  of  their  trees  bear  fruit  which,  decaying 
within,  produces  a  worm  which,  as  it  subsequently  de- 
velops, becomes  hairy  and  feathered,  and,  provided 
wings,  flies  like  a  bird." 

An  extensive  clerical  literature  grew  up  in  Europe  in 
discussion  of  the  ethics  of  this  matter,  for  the  monks 
liked  good  eating  and  their  Lenten  fare  was  miserably 
scanty,  and  a  great  variety  of  explanations  of  the  alleged 
marine  birth  of  these  birds — ordinary  geese  (Branta 
bernicla)  when  mature — were  contrived.  That  some- 
thing of  the  kind  was  true  nobody  in  authority  denied 
down  to  the  middle  of  the  17th  century,  when  a  German 
Jesuit,  Gaspar  Schott,  was  bold  enough  to  declare  that 
although  the  birth-place  of  this  uncommon  species  of 
goose  was  unknown  (it  is  now  believed  to  breed  in 
Spitzbergen  and  Nova  Zembla),  undoubtedly  it  was  pro- 
duced from  incubated  eggs  like  any  other  goose.  Never- 
theless the  fable  was  reaffirmed  in  the  Philosophical 
Transactions  of  the  Scottish  Royal  Society  for  1677. 
Henry  Lee  38  recalls  two  versions  of  the  absurd  but  preva- 
lent theory.  One  is  that  certain  trees,  resembling  willows, 
and  growing  always  close  to  the  sea,  produced  at  the  ends 


of  their  branches  fruits  in  the  shape  of  apples,  each  con- 
taining the  embryo  of  a  goose,  which,  when  the  fruit  was 
ripe,  fell  into  the  water  and  flew  away.  The  other  is  that 
the  geese  were  bred  from  a  fungus  growing  on  rotten 
timber  floating  at  sea,  and  were  first  developed  in  the 
form  of  worms  in  the  substance  of  the  wood. 

It  is  plain  that  this  fable  sprang  from  the  similitude 
to  the  wings  of  tiny  birds  of  the  feathery  arms  that 
sessile  barnacles  reach  out  from  their  shells  to  clutch  from 
the  water  their  microscopic  food,  and  also  to  the  remote 
likeness  the  naked  heads  and  necks  of  young  birds  bear 
to  stalked  or  "whale"  barnacles  (Lepas).  Both  these 
cirripeds  are  found  attached  to  floating  wood,  and  some- 
times to  tree-branches  exposed  to  waves  and  to  high  tides. 
The  deception  so  agreeable  to  hungry  churchmen  was 
abetted  by  the  etymologies  in  the  older  dictionaries.  Dr. 
Murray,  editor  of  The  New  Oxford  Dictionary,  asserts, 
however,  that  the  origin  of  the  word  "barnacle"  is  not 
known,  but  that  certainly  it  was  applied  to  the  mature 
goose  before  its  was  given  to  the  cirriped. 

Speaking  of  geese,  what  is  the  probable  source  of  the 
warning  "Don't  kill  the  goose  that  lays  the  golden  eggs" 
beyond  or  behind  the  obvious  moral  of  ^Esop's  familiar 
fable?  The  only  light  on  the  subject  that  has  come  to 
me  is  the  following  passage  in  Bayley's 24  somewhat 
esoteric  book: 

The  Hindoos  represent  Brahma,  the  Breath  of  Life,  as  riding 
upon  a  goose,  and  the  Egyptians  symbolized  Seb,  the  father  of 
Osiris,  as  a  goose.  .  .  .  According  to  the  Hindoo  theory  of 
creation  the  Supreme  Spirit  laid  a  golden  egg  resplendent  as  the 
sun,  and  from  the  golden  egg  was  born  Brahma,  the  progenitor 
of  the  Universe.  The  Egyptians  had  a  similar  story,  and  de- 
scribed the  sun  as  an  egg  laid  by  the  primeval  goose,  in  later 


times  said  to  be  a  god.  It  is  probable  that  our  fairy  tale  of 
the  goose  that  laid  the  golden  egg  is  a  relic  of  this  very  ancient 

These  notions  in  India  probably  were  the  seed  of  a 
Buddhist  legend  that  comes  a  little  nearer  to  our  quest. 
According  to  this  legend  the  Buddha  (to  be)  was  born 
a  Brahmin,  and  after  growing  up  was  married  and  his 
wife  bore  him  three  daughters.  After  his  death  he  was 
born  again  as  a  golden  mallard  (which  is  a  duck),  and 
determined  to  give  his  golden  feathers  one  by  one  for  the 
support  of  his  former  family.  This  beneficence  went  on, 
the  mallard-Bodhisat  helping  at  intervals  by  a  gift  of  a 
feather.  Then  one  day  the  mother  proposed  to  pluck  the 
bird  clean,  and,  despite  the  protests  of  the  daughters,  did 
so.  But  at  that  instant  the  golden  feathers  ceased  to  be 
golden.  His  wings  grew  again,  but  they  were  plain  white. 
It  may  be  added  that  the  Pali  word  for  golden  goose 
is  hansa,  whence  the  Latin  anser,  goose,  German  gans, 
the  root,  gan  appearing  in  our  words  gander  and  gannet ; 
so  that  it  appears  that  the  "mallard"  was  a  goose,  after 
all — and  so  was  the  woman! 

This  may  not  explain  iEsop,  for  that  fabulist  told  or 
wrote  his  moral  anecdotes  a  thousand  years  before  Bud- 
dhism was  heard  of;  but  it  is  permissible  to  suppose  that 
so  simple  a  lesson  in  bad  management  might  have  been 
taught  in  India  ages  before  y£sop  (several  of  whose 
fables  have  been  found  in  early  Egyptian  papyri),  and 
was  only  repeated,  in  a  new  dressing,  by  good  Buddhists, 
as  often  happens  with  stories  having  a  universal  appeal 
to  our  sense  of  practical  philosophy  or  of  humor. 

We  have  had  occasion  to  speak  of  the  eagle  in  many 
different  aspects,  as  the  elected  king  of  the  birds,  as  an 
emblem  of  empire,  and  so  on,  but  there  remain  for  use 


in  this  chapter  some  very  curious  attributes  assigned  to 
the  great  bird  by  ancient  wonder-mongers  that  long  ago 
would  have  been  lost  in  the  discarded  rubbish  of  primi- 
tive ideas — mental  toys  of  the  childhood  of  the  world — 
had  they  not  been  preserved  for  us  in  the  undying  pages 
of  literature.  Poetry,  especially,  is  a  sort  of  museum 
of  antique  inventions,  preserving  for  us  specimens — 
often  without  labels — of  speculative  stages  in  the  early 
development  of  man's  comprehension  of  nature. 

In  the  case  of  the  eagle  (as  a  genus,  in  the  Old  World 
not  always  clearly  distinguished  from  vultures  and  the 
larger  hawks)  it  is  sometimes  difficult  to  say  whether 
some  of  its  legendary  aspects  are  causes  or  effects  of 
others.  Was  its  solar  quality,  for  example,  a  cause  or  a 
consequence  of  its  supposed  royalty  in  the  bird  tribe? 
The  predatory  power,  lofty  flight,  and  haughty  yet  noble 
mien  of  the  true  eagle,  may  account  for  both  facts,  to- 
gether or  separately.  It  would  be  diving  too  deeply  into 
the  murky  depths  of  mythology  to  show  full  proof,  but 
it  may  be  accepted  that  everywhere,  at  least  in  the  East, 
the  fountain  of  superstitions,  the  eagle  typified  the  sun 
in  its  divine  aspect.  This  appears  as  a  long-accepted  con- 
ception at  the  very  dawn  of  history  among  the  sun-wor- 
shippers of  the  Euphrates  Valley,  and  it  persisted  in  art 
and  theology  until  Christianity  remodelled  such  "heathen" 
notions  to  suit  the  new  trend  of  religious  thought,  and 
transformed  the  "bird  of  fire"  into  a  symbol  of  the 
Omnipotent  Spirit — an  ascription  which  artists  inter- 
preted very  liberally. 

In  Egypt  a  falcon  replaced  it  in  its  religious  signifi- 
cance, true  eagles  being  rare  along  the  Nile,  and  "eagle- 
hawks"  were  kept  in  the  sun-gods'  temples,  sacred  to 
Horus  (represented  with  a  hawk-head  surmounted  by  a 


sun-disk),  Ra,  Osiris,  Seku,  and  other  solar  divinities. 
"It  was  regarded,"  as  Mr.  Cook  explains  in  Zeus, 37  "as 
the  only  bird  that  could  look  with  unflinching  gaze  at 
the  sun,  being  itself  filled  with  sunlight,  and  eventually 
akin  to  fire."  Later,  people  made  it  the  sacred  bird  of 
Apollo,  and  Mithraic  worshippers  spoke  of  Helios  as  a 
hawk,  but  crude  superstitions  among  the  populace  were 
mixed  with  this  priestly  reverence. 

It  was  universally  believed  of  the  eagle,  that,  as  an  old 
writer  said,  "she  can  see  into  the  great  glowing  sun"; 
few  if  any  were  aware  that  she  could  veil  her  eyes  by 
drawing  across  the  orbs  that  third  eyelid  which  naturalists 
term  the  nictitating  membrane.  Hence  arose  that  fur- 
ther belief,  lasting  well  into  the  Middle  Ages,  that  the 
mother-bird  proved  her  young  by  forcing  them  to  gaze 
upon  the  sun,  and  discarding  those  who  shrank  from  the 
fiery  test — "Like  Eaglets  bred  to  Soar,  Gazing  on  Starrs 
at  heaven's  mysterious  Pow'r,"  wrote  an  anonymous  poet 
in  1652.  "Before  that  her  little  ones  be  feathered,"  in  the 
words  of  an  old  compiler  of  marvels  quoted  by  Hulme,38 
"she  will  beat  and  strike  them  with  her  wings,  and  thereby 
force  them  to  looke  full  against  the  sunbeams.  Now  if 
she  sees  any  one  of  them  to  winke,  or  their  eies  to  water 
at  the  raies  of  the  sunne,  she  turns  it  with  the  head  fore- 
most out  of  the  nest  as  a  bastard." 

How  many  who  now  read  the  103d  Psalm,  or  that  fine 
figure  of  rhetoric  in  Milton's  Areopagitica,  could  explain 
the  full  meaning  of  the  comparison  used?  The  passage 
referred  to  is  that  in  which  Milton  exclaims:  "Methinks 
I  see  in  my  mind  a  noble  and  puissant  nation  rousing  her- 
self like  a  strong  man  after  sleep.  .  .  .  Methinks  I  see 
her  renewing  her  mighty  youth,  and  kindling  her  undaz- 
zled  eyes  at  the  sun."    Milton  evidently  expected  all  his 


readers  to  appreciate  the  value  of  his  simile — to  know 
that  eagles  were  credited  with  just  this  power  of  juvenes- 
cence.  "When,"  in  the  words  of  an  even  older  chronicler, 
"an  eagle  hathe  darkness  and  dimness  in  een,  and  heavi- 
nesse  in  wings,  against  this  disadvantage  she  is  taught  by 
kinde  to  seek  a  well  of  springing  water,  and  then  she  flieth 
up  into  the  aire  as  far  as  she  may,  till  she  be  full  hot  by 
heat  of  the  air  and  by  travaille  of  flight,  and  so  then  by 
heat  the  pores  being  opened,  and  the  feathers  chafed,  and 
she  f alleth  sideingly  into  the  well,  and  there  the  feathers 
be  chaunged  and  the  dimness  of  her  een  is  wiped  away 
and  purged,  and  she  taketh  again  her  might  and  strength." 
Isn't  that  a  finely  constructed  tale?  Spencer  thought  so 
when  he  wrote: 

As  eagle  fresh  out  of  the  ocean  wave, 
Where  he  hath  left  his  plumes,  all  hoary  gray, 
And  decks  himself  with  feathers,  youthful,  gay. 

Margaret  C.  Walker39  elaborates  the  legend  in  her 
excellent  book,  suggesting  that  it  may  have  originated  in 
contemplation  of  the  great  age  to  which  eagles  are  sup- 
posed to  live;  but  to  my  mind  it  grew  out  of  the  ancient 
symbolism  that  made  the  eagle  represent  the  sun,  which 
plunges  into  the  western  ocean  every  night,  and  rises, 
its  youth  renewed  every  morning. 

"It  is  related,,,  says  Miss  Walker,  "that  when  this  bird  feels 
the  season  of  youth  is  passing  by,  and  when  his  young  are  still 
in  the  nest,  he  leaves  the  aging  earth  and  soars  toward  the 
sun,  the  consumer  of  all  that  is  harmful.  Mounting  upward  to 
the  third  region  of  the  air — the  region  of  meteors — he  circles 
and  swings  about  under  the  great  fiery  ball  in  their  midst,  turn- 
ing every  feather  to  its  scorching  rays,  then,  with  wings  drawn 
back,  like  a  meteor  himself,  he  drops  into  some  cold  spring  or 
into  the  ocean  wave  there  to  have  the  heat  driven  inward  by 
the  soul-searching  chill  of  its  waters.    Then  flying  to  his  eyrie 


he  nestles  among  his  warm  fledglings,  till,  starting  into  perspi- 
ration, he  throws  off  his  age  with  his  feathers.  That  his  re- 
juvenescence may  be  complete,  as  his  sustenance  must  be  of 
youth,  he  makes  prey  of  his  young,  feeding  on  the  nestlings 
that  have  warmed  him.  He  is  clothed  anew  and  youth  is  again 

Cruden's  Concordance  B1  to  the  Bible,  first  published  in 
1737,  contains  under  "Eagle"  a  fine  lot  of  old  Semitic 
misinformation  as  to  the  habits  of  eagles,  which  Cruden 
gives  his  clerical  readers  apparently  in  complete  faith  and 
as  profitable  explanations  of  the  biblical  passages  in  which 
that  bird  is  mentioned.  Allow  me  to  quote  some  of  these 
as  an  addition  to  our  collection,  for  I  find  them  retained 
without  comment  in  the  latest  edition  of  this  otherwise 
admirable  work: 

It  is  said  that  when  an  eagle  sees  its  young  ones  so  well- 
grown,  as  to  venture  upon  flying,  it  hovers  over  their  nest, 
flutters  with  its  wings,  and  excites  them  to  imitate  it,  and  take 
their  flight,  and  when  it  sees  them  weary  or  fearful  it  takes 
them  upon  its  back,  and  carries  them  so,  that  the  fowlers  can- 
not hurt  the  young  without  piercing  through  the  body  of  the 
old  one.  ...  It  is  of  great  courage,  so  as  to  set  on  harts  and 
great  beasts.  And  has  no  less  subtility  in  taking  them;  for  hav- 
ing filled  its  wings  with  sand  and  dust,  it  sitteth  on  their  horns, 
and  by  its  wings  shaketh  it  in  their  eyes,  whereby  they  become 
an  easy  prey.  ...  It  goeth  forth  to  prey  about  noon,  when 
men  are  gone  home  from  the  fields. 

It  hath  a  little  eye,  but  a  very  quick  sight,  and  discerns  its 
prey  afar  off,  and  beholds  the  sun  with  open  eyes,  Such  of  her 
young  as  through  weakness  of  sight  cannot  behold  the  sun,  it 
rejects  as  unnatural.  It  liveth  long,  nor  dieth  of  age  or  sick- 
ness, say  some,  but  of  hunger,  for  by  age  its  bill  grows  so 
hooked  that  it  cannot  feed.  ...  It  is  said  that  it  preserves  its 
nest  from  poison,  by  having  therein  a  precious  stone,  named 
Aetites  (without  which  it  is  thought  the  eagle  cannot  lay  her 
eggs  .  .  .)  and  keepeth  it  clean  by  the  frequent  use  of  the  herb 
maidenhair.  Unless  it  be  very  hungry  it  devoureth  not  whole 
prey,  but  leaveth  part  of  it  for  other  birds,  which  follow.    Its 


feathers,  or  quills,  are  said  to  consume  other  quills  that  lie  near 
them.  Between  the  eagle  and  dragon  there  is  constant  enmity, 
the  eagle  seeking  to  kill  it,  and  the  dragon  breaks  all  the 
eagle's  eggs  it  can  find. 

If  the  Jewish  eagles  are  as  smart  as  that,  my  sympathies 
are  with  the  dragon ! 

The  relations  between  Zeus,  or  Jupiter,  and  the  eagle, 
mostly  reprehensible,  belong  to  classic  mythology;  and 
they  have  left  little  trace  in  folklore,  which,  be  it  re- 
membered, takes  account  of  living  or  supposed  realities, 
not  of  mythical  creatures.  The  most  notable  bit,  per- 
haps, is  the  widely  accepted  notion  that  this  bird  is  never 
killed  by  lightning;  is  "secure  from  thunder  and  un- 
harmed by  Jove,"  as  Dryden  phrases  it.  Certain  common 
poetic  allusions  explain  themselves,  for  instance,  that  in 
The  Myrmidons  of  ^Eschylus: 

So,  in  the  Libyan  fable  it  is  told 
That  once  an  eagle,  stricken  with  a  dart, 
Said,  when  he  saw  the  fashion  of  the  shaft, 
'With  our  own  feathers,  not  by  others'  hands 
'Are  we  now  smitten/ 

These  little  narratives,  which  are  certainly  interesting 
if  true — as  they  are  not — are  good  examples  of  the 
failure  to  exercise  what  may  be  called  the  common-sense 
of  science. 

Extraordinary  indeed  are  the  foolish  things  that  used 
to  be  told  of  birds  by  men  apparently  wise  and  observant 
in  other,  even  kindred,  matters.  Isaak  Walton,40  for 
example,  so  well  informed  as  to  fish,  seemed  to  swallow 
falsities  about  other  animals  as  readily  as  did  the 
gudgeon  Isaak's  bait.  He  writes  in  one  place,  after 
quoting  some  very  mistaken  remarks  about  grasshoppers, 


that  "this  may  be  believed  if  we  consider  that  when  the 
raven  hath  hatched  her  eggs  she  takes  no  further  care, 
but  leaves  her  young  ones  to  the  care  of  the  God  of 
Nature,  who  is  said  in  the  Psalms  'to  feed  the  young 
that  call  upon  him.'  And  they  be  kept  alive,  and  fed 
by  a  dew,  or  worms  that  breed  in  their  nests,  or  some 
other  ways  that  we  mortals  know  not." 

The  origin  of  this  is  plain.  The  ancient  Jews  told  one 
another  that  ravens  left  their  fledgings  to  survive  by 
chance,  not  feeding  them  as  other  birds  did.  This  is 
manifested  in  several  places  in  the  Bible,  as  in  the  147th 
Psalm :  "He  giveth  to  the  beast  his  food  and  to  the  young 
ravens  which  cry";  but  this  absurd  notion  is  far  older, 
no  doubt,  than  the  Psalms.  Aristotle41  mentions  that 
in  Scythia — a  terra  incognita  where,  in  the  minds  of  the 
Greeks,  anything  might  happen— "there  is  a  kind  of  bird 
as  big  as  a  bustard,  which  .  .  .  does  not  sit  upon  its 
eggs,  but  hides  them  in  the  skin  of  a  hare  or  fox,"  and 
then  watches  them  from  a  neighboring  perch.  Readers 
may  guess  at  the  reality,  if  any,  behind  this.  Aristotle 
seems  to  have  accepted  it  as  a  fact,  for  he  goes  on  to  de- 
scribe how  certain  birds  of  prey  are  equally  devoid  of 
parental  sense  of  duty;  but  we  cannot  be  sure  what  species 
are  referred  to,  despite  the  names  used  in  Cresswell's 
translation  of  the  History  of  Animals,  as  follows: 

The  bird  called  asprey  .  .  .  feeds  both  its  young  and  those 
of  the  eagle  ...  for  the  eagle  turns  out  its  young  .  .  .  before 
the  proper  time,  when  they  still  require  feeding  and  are  unable 
to  fly.  The  eagle  appears  to  eject  its  young  from  the  nest 
from  envy  .  .  .  and  strikes  them.  When  they  are  turned  out 
they  begin  to  scream,  and  the  phene  comes  and  takes  them  up. 

Why  so  strange  notions  of  maternal  care  in  birds 
should  ever  have  gained  credence  in  the  face  of  daily  ob- 


servation  of  the  solicitude  of  every  creature  for  its  young, 
is  one  of  the  puzzles  of  history,  but  that  they  were  wide- 
spread is  certain,  and  also  that  they  persisted  in  folklore 
down  to  the  time  when,  at  the  dawn  of  the  Renaissance, 
observation  and  research  began  to  replace  blind  confidence 
in  ancient  lore.  Thus  J.  E.  Harting, 42  in  his  well-known 
treatise  on  the  natural  history  in  Shakespeare,  quotes 
from  a  Latin  folio  of  1582  in  support  of  his  statement 
that  "it  was  certainly  a  current  belief  in  olden  times  that 
when  the  raven  saw  its  young  newly  hatched,  and  covered 
with  down,  it  conceived  such  an  aversion  that  it  forsook 
them,  and  did  not  return  to  its  nest  until  a  darker  plumage 
showed  itself." 

Ravens  have  quite  enough  sins  to  answer  for  and 
calumnies  to  live  down  without  adding  to  the  list  this 
murderous  absurdity,  contrary  to  the  very  first  law  of 
bird-nature.  Nevertheless  the  poets,  as  usual,  take  ad- 
vantage of  the  thought  (for  its  moral  picturesqueness,  I 
suppose),  as  witness  Burns's  lines  in  The  Cotters  Satur- 
day Night — 

That  he  who  stills  the  raven's  clamorous  nest 

Would  in  the  way  his  wisdom  sees  the  best, 
For  them  and  for  their  little  ones  provide. 

It  is  plain  that  the  plowman-poet  was  too  canny  to  be- 
lieve it,  but  perhaps  it  is  well  to  say  that  there  is  no  foun- 
dation in  fact  for  this  extraordinary  charge.  Ravens 
are  faithful  and  careful  parents:  in  fact  Shakespeare 
makes  a  character  in  Titus  Andronicus  mention  that 
"some  say  that  ravens  foster  forlorn  children,"  a  view 
quite  the  opposite  of  the  other. 

Another  calumny  is  thoughtlessly  repeated  by  Brewer  34 


in  his  widely  used  reference-book  Phrase  and  Fable 
(which  unfortunately  is  far  from  trustworthy  in  the  de- 
partment of  natural  history)  when  he  records:  "Ravens 
by  their  acute  sense  of  smell,  discern  the  savor  of  dying 
bodies,  and  under  the  hope  of  preying  on  them,  light  on 
chimney-tops  or  flutter  about  sick-rooms." 

The  correction  to  be  made  here  is  not  to  the  gruesome 
superstition  but  to  the  asserted  keenness  of  the  bird's 
sense  of  smell.     The  gathering  of  vultures  to  a  dead 
animal  is  not  by  its  odor,  but  by  the  sight  of  the  carcass 
by  one,  and  the  noting  of  signs  of  that  fact  by  others, 
who  hasten  to  investigate  the  matter.  Oliver  Goldsmith  32 
fell  into  the  same  error  when  he  wrote  of  the  protective 
value,  as  he  esteemed  it,  of  this  sense  in  birds  in  general, 
"against  their  insidious  enemies" ;  and  cited  the  practice 
of  decoymen,  formerly  so  numerous  as  wildfowl  trappers 
in  the  east  of  England,  "who  burn  turf  to  hide  their 
scent  from  the  ducks."    The  precaution  was  wasted,  for 
none  of  the  senses  in  birds  is  so  little  developed  or  of 
so  small  use  as  the  olfactory.     Goldsmith's  Animated 
Nature  was,  a  century  ago,  the  fountain  of  almost  all 
popular  knowledge  of  natural  history  among  English- 
reading  people,  and  was  often  reprinted.    As  a  whole  it 
was  a  good  and  useful  book,  but  its  accomplished  author 
was  not  a  trained  naturalist,  and  absorbed  some  state- 
ments that  were  far  from  authentic — perhaps  in  some 
cases  he  was  so  pleased  with  the  narrative  that  he  was  not 
sufficiently  critical  of  its  substance,  as  in  the  story  of 
the  storks  in  Smyrna: 

The  inhabitants  amuse  themselves  by  taking  away  some  of 
the  storks'  eggs  from  the  nests  on  their  roofs,  and  replacing 
them  with  fowls'  eggs.  "When  the  young  are  hatched  the  saga- 
cious male  bird  discovers  the  difference  of  these  from  their  own 


brood  and  sets  up  a  hideous  screaming,  which  excites  the  atten- 
tion of  the  neighboring  storks,  which  fly  to  his  nest.  Seeing  the 
cause  of  their  neighbor's  uneasiness,  they  simultaneously  com- 
mence pecking  the  hen,  and  soon  deprive  her  of  life,  supposing 
these  spurious  young  ones  to  be  the  produce  of  her  conjugal 
infidelity.  The  male  bird  in  the  meantime  appears  melancholy, 
though  he  seems  to  conceive  she  justly  merited  her  fate." 

In  Goldsmith's  day  such  contributions  to  foreign 
zoology  were  common.  Even  the  so-called  scientific  men  of 
early  Renaissance  times  indulged  in  the  story-teller's  joy. 
Albertus  Magnus  asserted  that  the  sea-eagle  and  the 
osprey  swam  with  one  foot,  which  was  webbed,  and  cap- 
tured prey  with  the  other  that  was  armed  with  talons. 
Aldrovandus  backed  him  up,  and  everybody  accepted  the 
statement  until  Linnaeus  laughed  them  out  of  it  by  the 
simple  process  of  examining  the  birds.  These,  you  may 
protest,  are  not  mistakes  but  pure  fancies ;  yet  it  is  only 
a  short  step  from  them  to  the  romance,  hardly  yet  under 
popular  doubt,  that  the  albatross  broods  its  eggs  in  a  raft- 
like, floating  nest  and  sleeps  on  the  wing,  as  you  may 
read  in  Lalla  Rookh: 

While  on  a  peak  that  braved  the  sky 
A  ruined  temple  tower'd  so  high 
That  oft  the  sleeping  albatross 
Struck  the  wild  ruins  with  her  wing, 
And  from  her  cloud-rocked  slumbering 
Started,  to  find  man's  dwelling  there 
In  her  own  fields  of  silent  air. 

Even  more  poetic  is  the  tale  of  the  death-chant  of  the 
swan,  still  more  than  half-believed  by  most  folks,  for 
we  constantly  use  it  as  a  figure  of  speech,  describing  in  a 
word,  for  example,  the  final  protest  of  a  discarded  office- 
seeker  as  his  "swan-song."    It  is  useless  to  hunt  for  the 


origin  of  this  notion — it  was  current  at  any  rate  in  Aris- 
totle's time,  for  he  writes:  "Swans  have  the  power  of 
song,  especially  when  near  the  end  of  their  life,  and  some 
persons,  sailing  near  the  coast  of  Libya,  have  met  many 
of  them  in  the  sea  singing  a  mournful  song  and  have 
afterwards  seen  some  of  them  die."  Pliny,  vElian  (who 
called  Greece  "mother  of  lies"),  Pausanias  and  othermore 
recent  philosophers,  denied  that  there  was  any  truth  in 
this  statement ;  but  the  sentimental  public,  charmed  by  the 
pathos  of  the  picture  presented  to  their  imaginations,  and 
refusing  to  believe  that  in  reality  this  bird's  only  utterance 
is  a  whoop,  or  a  trumpet-like  note,  have  kept  it  alive 
aided  by  the  poets  who  have  found  it  a  useful  fancy — - 
for  example  Byron,  who  moans 

Place  me  on  Sunium's  marbled  steep, 

Where  nothing  save  the  waves  and  I 

May  hear  our  mutual  murmurs  sweep; 

There,   swan-like,    let  me   sing   and   die. 

The  poets  are  not  to  be  quarrelled  with  too  severely  on 
this  account.  It  must  be  conceded  that  our  literature 
would  have  been  considerably  poorer  had  poets  declined 
to  accept  all  that  travellers  and  country  folk  told  them. 
Chaucer  uses  the  "swan-song,"  and  Shakespeare  often 
alludes  to  it,  as  in  Othello: 

I  will  play  the  swan  and  die  in  music. 
A  swan-like  end,  fading  in  music. 

Even  Tennyson  has  a  poem  on  it,  picturing  a  scene  of  the 
most  charming  nature,  the  pensive  beauty  of  which  is 
vastly  enhanced  by  the  bold  use  of  the  fable. 

It  has  required  both  the  hard  scientific  scrutiny  of  the 
past  century  and  a  wide  scattering  of  geographical  infor- 


mation,  to  offset  in  the  minds  of  most  of  us  the  tendency 
to  imagine  that  "over  the  hills  and  far  away"  things 
somehow  are  picturesquely  different  from  those  in  our 
own  humdrum  neighborhood,  and  that  perhaps  yonder 
the  laws  of  nature,  so  inexorable  here,  may  admit  now 
and  then  of  exceptions.  Amber  came  from — well,  few 
persons  knew  precisely  whence;  and  wasn't  it  possible 
that  it  might  be  a  concretion  of  birds'  tears,  as  some 

Around  thee  shall  glisten  the  loveliest  amber 
That  ever  the  sorrowing  sea-bird  hath  wept — 

sang  an  enamored  poet. 

Facilis  descensus  Averni  is  a  Latin  phrase  in  constant 
use,  with  the  implication  that  it  is  difficult  to  get  back — 
sed  revocare  gradus,  that's  the  rub !  But  how  many  know 
that  this  dark  little  cliff-ringed  lake  near  Cumae,  in  Italy, 
was  anciently  so  named  in  the  belief  that  because  of  its 
noxious  vapors  no  bird  could  fly  across  it  without  being 
suffocated.  Hence  a  myth  placed  there  an  entrance  to 
the  nether  world,  and,  with  keen  business  instincts,  the 
Cumaean  sybil  intensified  her  reputation  as  a  seer  by  tak- 
ing as  her  residence  a  grotto  near  this  baleful  bit  of  water. 

Who  can  forget  the  monumental  mistake  of  that  really 
great  and  philosophic  naturalist,  Buffon,  in  denying  that 
the  voices  of  American  birds  were,  or  could  be,  melodious. 
He  said  of  our  exquisite  songster,  the  wood-thrush,  that 
it  represented  the  song-thrush  of  Europe  which  had  at 
sometime  rambled  around  by  the  Northern  Ocean  and 
made  its  way  into  America ;  and  that  it  had  there,  owing 
to  a  change  of  food  and  climate,  so  degenerated  that  its 
cry  was  now  harsh  and  unpleasant,  "as  are  the  cries  of  all 
birds  that  live  in  wild  countries  inhabited  by  savages." 


The  danger  of  error  in  drawing  inferences  as  to  pur- 
pose in  nature  is  great  in  any  case;  but  it  is  doubly  so 
when  the  philosopher  is  mistaken  as  to  his  supposed 

By  going  back  a  few  decades  one  might  find  examples 
of  more  or  less  amusing  errors  in  natural  history  to  the 
point  of  weariness,  but  with  one  or  two  illustrations  from 
The  Young  Ladies'  Book  (Boston,  1836),  I  will  bring 
this  chapter  to  its  end.  This  little  volume,  doubtless  Eng- 
lish in  origin,  was  intended  for  the  entertaining  instruc- 
tion of  school-girls,  and  in  many  respects  was  excellent, 
but  when  it  ventured  on  American  ornithology  it  put 
some  amusing  misinformation  into  its  readers'  minds.  It 
teaches  them  that  our  butcherbirds  "bait  thorns  with 
grasshoppers  to  decoy  the  lesser  insectivorous  birds  into 
situations  where  they  may  easily  be  seized" — a  beautiful 
sample  of  teleological  assumption  of  motive  based  on  the 
fact  that  the  shrike  sometimes  impales  dead  grasshoppers, 
mice  and  so  forth  on  thorns  or  fence-splinters,  having 
learned  apparently  that  that  is  a  good  way  to  hold  its 
prey  (its  feet  are  weak,  and  unprovided  with  talons) 
while  it  tears  away  mouthfuls  of  flesh.  Often  the  victim 
is  left  there,  only  partly  eaten,  or  perhaps  untorn;  and 
rarely,  if  ever,  does  the  shrike  return  to  it,  and  certainly 
it  attracts  no  "lesser  insectivorous"  birds  nor  any  other 

The  author  also  instructs  his  young  ladies  that  "the 
great  American  bittern  has  the  property  of  emitting  a 
light  from  its  breast,"  and  so  forth.  His  authority  for 
this  long-persistent  and  picturesque  untruth  was  a  review 
of  Wilson's  American  Ornithology  in  Loudon's  Magazine 
of  Natural  History  (London,  Vol.  vi.,  835.)  Speaking 
of  this  familiar  marsh-bird,  which,  let  me  repeat,  has 


no  such  aid  in  making  a  living,  or  need  of  it,  as  it  is  not 
nocturnal  in  its  habits,  the  anonymous  reviewer  writes: 

It  is  called  by  Wilson  the  great  American  bittern,  but,  what 
is  very  extraordinary,  he  omits  to  mention  that  it  has  the  power 
of  emitting  a  light  from  its  breast,  equal  to  the  light  of  a 
common  torch,  which  illuminates  the  water  so  as  to  enable  it 
to  discover  its  prey.  ...  I  took  some  trouble  to  ascertain  the 
truth  of  this,  which  has  been  confirmed  to  me  by  several  gentle- 
men of  undoubted  veracity,  and  especially  by  Mr.  Franklin 
Peale,  the  proprietor  of  the  Philadelphia  Museum. 

A  similar  belief  existed  in  the  past  in  regard  to  the 
osprey,  which  we  in  the  United  States  call  the  fish-hawk. 
Loskiel  (Mission  to  the  Indians,  1794)  records  it  thus: 
"They  say  that  when  it  [the  fish-hawk]  hovers  over  the 
water,  it  possesses  a  power  of  alluring  the  fish  toward 
the  surface,  by  means  of  an  oily  substance  contained  in 
its  body.  So  much  is  certain,  that,  if  a  bait  is  touched 
with  this  oil,  the  fish  bite  so  greedily,  that  it  appears  as 
if  it  were  impossible  for  them  to  resist."  How  much 
of  this  is  native  American,  and  how  much  is  imported 
it  is  hard  to  determine  now. 


I  WAS  sitting  on  a  hillside  in  the  Catskill  Mountains 
a  few  years  ago  in  June,  when  a  hawk  came  sailing 
over  the  field  below  me.  Instantly  a  kingbird  sprang 
from  the  edge  of  the  woods  and  rushed,  in  the  cavalier 
manner  of  that  flycatcher,  to  drive  the  hawk  away,  pre- 
sumably from  its  nesting  neighborhood.  The  hawk  tried 
to  avoid  the  pecking  and  wing-beating  of  its  furious 
little  foe,  but  the  tormenter  kept  at  it;  and  before  long  I 
saw  the  kingbird  deliberately  leap  upward  and  alight  on 
the  hawk's  broad  back,  where  it  rode  comfortably  until 
both  birds  were  out  of  sight.  I  have  seen  a  humming- 
bird indulge  in  the  same  piece  of  impudence. 

The  Arawak  Indians  of  Venezuela  relate  that  their 
ancestors  obtained  their  first  tobacco-plants  from  Trini- 
dad by  sending  a  hummingbird,  mounted  on  a  crane, 
to  snatch  and  bring  back  the  jealously  guarded  seeds. 
The  association  of  these  birds  in  this  way  seems  sig- 

It  was  doubtless  because  adventures  similar  to  that 
of  the  kingbird  were  noticed  long  ago,  that  there  grew 
up  the  very  ancient  fable  that  on  one  occasion  a  general 
assembly  of  birds  resolved  to  chose  for  their  king  that 
bird  which  could  mount  highest  into  the  air.  This  the 
eagle  apparently  did,  and  all  were  ready  to  accept  his  rule 
when  a  loud  burst  of  song  was  heard,  and  perched  upon 
the  eagle's  back  was  seen  an  exultant  wren  that,  a  stowa- 



way  under  its  wing,  had  been  carried  aloft  by  the  kingly 
candidate.  This  trickiness  angered  the  eagle  so  much, 
says  one  tradition,  that  he  struck  the  wren  with  his  wing, 
which,  since  then,  has  been  able  to  fly  no  higher  than  a 
hawthorn-bush.  In  a  German  version  a  stork,  not  an 
eagle,  carries  the  wren  aloft  concealed  under  its  wing. 

W.  H.  Hudson,  the  authority  on  Argentine  zoology, 
says  that  the  boat-tailed  grakle,  or  "chopi,"  pursues  all 
sorts  of  predatory  birds,  even  the  great  caracara  eagle, 
"pouncing  down  and  fastening  itself  on  the  victim's 
back,  where  it  holds  its  place  till  the  obnoxious  bird  has 
left  its  territory."  Sir  Samuel  Baker  encountered  in 
Abyssinia  bands  of  cranes  walking  about  in  search  of 
grasshoppers,  every  crane  carrying  on  its  back  one  or 
more  small  flycatchers  that  from  time  to  time  would 
fly  down,  seize  an  insect  in  the  grass,  and  then  return  to 
a  crane's  shoulders.  Precisely  the  same  thing  has  been 
recorded  of  bustards  and  starlings  in  South  Africa. 

Bird-students  are  well  aware  that  certain  ducks  that 
nest  in  trees,  and  such  marine  birds  as  guillemots  breed- 
ing on  sea-fronting  cliffs,  sometimes  carry  down  their 
young  from  these  lofty  birth-places  by  balancing  them  on 
their  backs ;  also  that  it  is  a  common  thing  to  see  water- 
fowls, especially  grebes  and  swans,  swimming  about  with 
a  lot  of  little  ones  on  deck,  that  is,  on  the  broad  maternal 

These  facts  prepare  us  somewhat  for  examining  the 
widely  credited  assertion  that  various  large  birds  of 
powerful  flight  transport  small  birds  on  their  semiannual 
migrations — a  speculation  accepted  since  classic  times,  or 
before  them.  In  Deuteronomy,  xxxii,  II,  we  read: 
"As  the  eagle  fluttereth  over  her  young,  spreadeth  abroad 
her  wings,  taketh  them,  beareth  them  on  her  wings,"  etc. 


Modern  ornithologists  scout  the  notion.  Thus  Alfred 
Newton  55  refers  to  it  in  a  scornful  way,  but  admits  that 
it  is  the  conviction  not  only  of  Egyptian  peasants  but  of 
Siberian  Tartars,  who  assured  the  ornithologist  Gmelin, 
in  1740,  that  in  autumn  storks  and  cranes  carried  south- 
ward on  their  backs  all  the  Siberian  corncrakes.  In  a 
Gaelic  folk-tale  of  Cathal  O'Couchan  a  falcon,  knowing 
that  the  wren  of  the  story  has  a  long  way  to  go,  says: 
"Spring  up  between  my  wings,  and  no  other  bird  will 
touch  thee  till  thou  reach  home." 

In  fact,  this  popular  notion  is  almost  world-wide, 
and  it  is  useful  to  assemble  such  evidence  as  may  be 
had  as  to  the  basis  of  it,  for  one  cannot  well  dismiss  with  a 
gesture  of  disdain  a  theory  that  appears  to  have  arisen  in- 
dependently, and  from  observation,  among  peoples  so 
widely  separated  as  those  of  Siberia  and  Egypt,  of  Crete 
and  the  Hudson  Bay  country ;  and  which  continues  to  be 
held  by  competent  observers.  A  German  man  of  letters, 
Adolph  Ebeling,  who  published  a  book  of  his  experiences 
in  Egypt  in  1878,  was  surprised  to  find  the  wagtail  there 
at  that  season.  This  is  a  small,  ground-keeping  bird  that 
flits  about  rather  than  flies;  and  he  expressed  to  an  old 
Arab  his  astonishment  that  such  birds  should  be  able  to 
get  across  the  Mediterranean.  "The  Bedouin,"  Ebeling 
relates,  "turned  to  me  with  a  mixture  of  French  and 
Arabic  as  follows:  'Do  you  not  know,  noble  sir,  that  these 
small  birds  are  borne  over  the  sea  by  the  larger  ones  ?'  " 
I  laughed,  but  the  old  man  continued  quite  naturally: 
"Every  child  among  us  knows  that.  Those  little  birds 
are  much  too  weak  to  make  the  long  sea-journey  with 
their  own  strength.  This  they  know  very  well,  and  there- 
fore wait  for  the  storks  and  cranes  and  other  large  birds, 
and  settle  themselves  upon  their  backs.    In  this  wray  they 


allow  themselves  to  be  borne  over  the  sea.  The  large 
birds  submit  to  it  willingly,  for  they  like  their  little  guests 
who  by  their  merry  twitterings  help  to  kill  the  time  on 
the  long  voyage.'' 

Ebeling  met  that  evening,  he  says,  in  Cairo,  the  African 
explorer  Theodor  von  Heuglin,  who,  as  all  know,  was  a 
specialist  in  African  ornithology,  related  to  him  the  con- 
versation with  the  Bedouin,  and  asked  his  opinion  on  it. 
"Let  others  laugh,"  said  von  Heuglin.  "I  do  not  laugh, 
for  the  thing  is  known  to  me.  I  should  have  recently 
made  mention  of  it  in  my  work  if  I  had  had  any  strong 
personal  proof  to  justify  it.  We  must  be  much  more 
careful  in  such  matters  than  a  mere  story-teller  or 

A  Swedish  traveller,  Hedenborg,  is  quoted  by  August 
Petermann,  the  geographer,  as  stating  that  in  autumn  on 
the  Island  of  Rhodes,  in  the  y£gean  Sea,  when  the  storks 
came  in  flocks  across  the  water  he  often  heard  birds  sing- 
ing that  he  was  unable  to  discover.  "Once  he  followed  a 
flock  of  storks,  and  as  they  alighted  he  saw  small  birds 
fly  up  from  their  backs." 

There  was  published  in  London  in  1875  a  book  entitled 
Bible  Lands  and  Bible  Customs,  the  author  of  which  was 
the  Rev.  Henry  J.  Van  Lennep,  D.D.  Dr.  Lennep  in- 
forms his  readers  that  many  small  birds  are  unable  to 
fly  across  the  Mediterranean,  "and  to  meet  such  cases  the 
crane  has  been  provided.  ...  In  the  autumn  numerous 
flocks  may  be  seen  coming  from  the  north  .  .  .  flying 
low  and  circling  over  the  plains.  Little  birds  of  various 
species  may  then  be  seen  flying  up  to  them,  while  the 
twittering  songs  of  those  comfortably  settled  on  their 
backs  may  then  be  distinctly  heard."  (Quoted  in  Nature, 
March  24,  1881 ).    We  may  smile  at  the  good  man's  faith 


that  God  "provided"  big  birds  as  carriers  for  little  ones — 
especially  as  we  know  that  the  weakest  warblers  are  able 
to  cross  from  Europe  to  Africa;  but  other  equally  modern 
and  more  matter-of-fact  testimony  comes  from  the  same 
quarter  of  the  world.  In  The  Evening  Post,  of  New 
York  City,  dated  November  20,  1880,  a  long  letter  ap- 
peared on  this  topic,  written  by  an  anonymous  corre- 
spondent who  gave  his  own  similar  experience  in  Crete 
in  the  autumn  of  1878,  part  of  which  reads: 

"On  several  occasions  the  village  priest — a  friendly  Greek 
with  whom  I  spent  the  greater  part  of  my  time — directed  my 
attention  to  the  twittering  and  singing  of  small  birds  which  he 
distinctly  heard  when  a  flock  of  sand-cranes  passed  by  on 
their  southward  journey.  I  told  my  friend  that  I  could  not  see 
any  small  birds,  and  suggested  that  the  noise  came  from  the 
wings  of  the  large  ones.  This  he  denied,  saying  'No,  no !  I 
know  it  is  the  chirping  of  small  birds.  They  are  on  the  backs 
of  the  cranes.  I  have  seen  them  frequently  fly  up  and  alight 
again,  and  they  are  always  with  them  when  they  stop  to  rest  and 
feed.'  I  was  still  sceptical,  for  with  the  aid  of  a  field-glass  I 
failed  to  discover  the  'small  birds'  spoken  of.  I  inquired  of 
several  others  and  found  the  existence  of  these  little  feathered 
companions  to  be  a  matter  of  general  belief.  'They  come  over 
from  Europe  with  them.'  One  day,  while  fishing  about  fifteen 
miles  from  shore,  a  flock  of  cranes  passed  quite  near  the  yacht. 
The  fishermen,  hearing  the  'small  birds/  drew  my  attention  to 
their  chirping.  Presently  one  cried  out,  'There's  one !'  but  I 
failed  to  catch  sight  of  it,  whereupon  one  of  the  men  discharged 
his  flintlock.  Three  small  birds  rose  up  from  the  flock  and  soon 
disappeared  among  the  cranes." 

This  letter,  despite  its  column-length  and  its  anonym- 
ity, was  copied  in  full  by  that  highly  scientific  journal 
Nature,  of  London,  and  this  immediately  brought  out  a 
note  from  John  Rae,  one  of  the  wisest  explorers  of  north- 
western Canada,  who  related  (Nature,  March  3,  1881) 
that  it  was  the  general  belief  among  the  Maskegan  (Cree) 


Indians  dwelling  along  the  southwestern  shore  of  Hudson 
Bay  that  "a  small  bird,  one  of  the  Fringillidae,  performs 
its  northward  migration  in  spring  on  the  back  of  the 
Canada  goose.  These  geese  reach  Hudson  Bay  about  the 
last  of  April,  and  the  Indians  state  that  when  they  are 
fired  at  little  birds  are  seen  flying  away  from  them."  Mr. 
Rae  adds:  "An  intelligent,  truthful  and  educated  Indian, 
named  George  Rivers  .  .  .  assured  me  that  he  had  wit- 
nessed this,  and  I  believe  I  once  saw  it  occur." 

Almost  simultaneously  Forest  and  Stream  (New  York, 
March  10,  1881)  printed  a  communication  from  J.  C. 
Merrill  of  Fort  Custer,  Montana,  alleging  "a  general  be- 
lief among  the  Crow  Indians  of  Montana  that  the  sand- 
hill crane  performs  the  same  office  for  a  bird  they  call 
napite-shu-ntl,  or  crane's  back."    Mr.  Merrill  continued: 

"This  bird  I  have  not  seen,  but  from  the  description  it  is 
probably  a  small  grebe.  It  is  'big  medicine/  and  when  obtained 
is  rudely  stuffed  and  carefully  preserved.  .  .  .  About  ten  or 
fifteen  per  cent  of  cranes  are  accompanied  by  the  'crane-back/ 
which,  as  the  crane  rises  from  the  ground,  flutters  up  and 
settles  on  the  back  between  the  wings,  remaining  there  until  the 
crane  alights.  Such  is  the  Indian  account,  and  many  of  their 
hunters  and  chiefs  have  assured  me  that  they  have  frequently 
seen  the  birds  carried  off  in  this  way.  At  these  times  the  bird 
is  said  to  keep  up  a  constant  chattering  whistle,  which  is  the 
origin  of  the  custom  of  the  Crow  warriors  going  out  to  battle, 
each  with  a  small  bone  whistle  in  his  mouth ;  this  is  continually 
blown,  imitating  the  notes  of  the  'crane's-back,'  and,  as  they 
believe,  preserves  their  ponies  and  themselves  from  wounds,  so 
that  in  case  of  defeat  they  may  be  safely  carried  away  as  is  the 

"The  Cree  Indians  are  said  to  observe  the  same  habit  in  the 
white  crane." 

Now  there  is  no  good  reason  to  deny  the  honesty  or 
sneer  at  the  value  of  these  widely  distributed  observations 


so  long  as  they  arc  regarded  as  descriptive  of  exceptions 
and  not  of  a  rule  of  migration.  Neither  the  observers 
nor  die  reporters  had  any  motive  for  deception,  and  are 
not  likely  to  deceive  themselves  in  every  case — moreover, 
new  witnesses  continually  arise.  For  example:  Mr.  E. 
Hagland,  of  Therien,  Alberta,  wrote  to  me  as  follows  in 
a  casual  way,  without  any  prompting,  in  April,  1919: 

"One  fall  a  flock  of  cranes  passed  over  me  flying  very  low, 
and  apart  from  their  squawking  I  could  distinctly  hear  the 
twittering  of  small  birds,  sparrows  of  some  kind.  The  chirping 
grew  louder  as  the  cranes  drew  towards  me,  and  grew  fainter 
as  they  drew  away;  and  as  the  cranes  were  the  only  birds  in 
sight  I  concluded  that  little  birds  were  taking  a  free  ride  to  the 

The  manner  of  flight  of  sandhill  cranes  as  described 
by  Dr.  Elliott  Coues  50  suggests  why  they  might  well  be 
utilized  as  common  carriers  by  small  birds  going  their 
way.  "Such  ponderous  bodies,  moving  with  slowly  beat- 
ing wings,  give  a  great  idea  of  momentum  from  mere 
weight  .  .  .  for  they  plod  along  heavily,  seeming  to  need 
every  inch  of  their  ample  wings  to  sustain  themselves." 
This  would  make  it  easy  and  tempting  for  a  tired  little 
migrant  to  rest  its  feet  on  the  crane's  broad  back — and 
once  settled  there,  why  not  stay  ? 

The  flaw  in  this  whole  matter  is  the  unwarranted  in- 
ference made  by  the  Bedouins  who  talked  with  Herr 
Ebling,  and  by  wiser  persons,  namely,  that  all  the  wag- 
tails and  other  little  birds  annually  perform  their  over- 
seas journeys  by  aid  of  stronger-winged  friends.  That  is 
reasoning  from  some  to  all,  which  is  bad  logic.  It  is  as 
if  a  stranger  in  town  noticed  a  few  schoolboys  hopping 
on  the  back  of  a  wagon,  and  immediately  noted  down  that 
in  Pequaket  boys  in  general  rode  to  school  on  the  tail- 


boards  of  farm-wagons.  Little  birds,  like  small  boys, 
have  sense  enough  in  their  migrations  to  utilize  a  conven- 
ience when  it  is  going  their  way — in  other  words  a  very 
few  lucky  ones  each  year  manage  to  "steal  a  ride." 

Thus  far  we  have  been  dealing  with  a  matter  pretty 
close  to  actual  ornithology;  but  it  is  only  within  recent 
years  that  study  has  made  clear  to  us  "the  way  of  an  eagle 
in  the  air,"  which,  as  a  symbol  of  the  semiannual  move- 
ment of  bird-hosts,  was  such  a  mystery  to  our  fore- 
fathers. They  imagined  many  quaint  explanations,  often 
no  more  sensible  than  the  theory  of  the  Ojibway  Indians, 
who  say  that  once  bird-folk  played  ball  with  the  North 
Wind.  The  latter  won  the  game,  and  those  kinds  of 
birds  who  were  on  his  side  now  stay  in  the  North  all 
winter,  while  those  of  the  defeated  side  are  obliged  to 
flee  southward  every  autumn,  as  their  ancestors  did  at 
the  end  of  the  great  ball-game. 

Sir  Walter  Scott  recalls  in  one  of  his  novels  the  fond 
conceit  of  the  little  nuns  in  the  abbey  of  Whitby,  on  the 
Northumberland  coast,  that  the  wee  immigrants  arriving 
there  after  their  flight  across  the  North  Sea  fluttered  to 
earth  not  in  weariness  of  wings  but  to  do  homage  to 
Hilda,  their  saintly  abbess.  That  was  fifteen  long  cen- 
turies ago ;  but  the  story  is  true,  for  you  may  still  see  the 
ruins,  at  least,  of  Hilda's  abbey,  and  still,  spring  by 
spring,  do  tired  birds  pause  beside  it  as  if  to  pay  their  de- 

Much  less  pleasant  is  the  dread  inspired  in  the  hearts 
of  those  who  listen  to  the  Seven  Whistlers.  Formerly  no 
Leicestershire  miner  would  go  down  into  a  pit,  after  hear- 
ing them,  until  a  little  time  had  elapsed,  taking  the  sounds 
as  a  warning  that  an  accident  was  impending ;  and  doubt- 
less coincident  mishaps  occurred  often  enough  to  confirm 


faith  in  the  presentiment.  Level-headed  men  knew  well 
enough  what  the  Seven  Whistlers  were — "it's  them  long- 
billed  curlews,  but  I  never  likes  to  hear  'em,"  said  one. 
The  northern  name  of  these  birds  is  "whimbrel,"  a  form 
of  the  English  whimperer.  As  these  curlews  when  mi- 
grating often  travel  low  on  dark  nights,  and  are  unseen, 
it  is  not  strange  that  their  unearthly  cries  should  chill  the 
imagination  of  the  superstitious,  and  that  the  Scotch 
should  call  them  "corpse-hounds."  "Gabble  retchet"  is 
another  Scotch  term ;  and  probably  the  Irish  banshee  had 
a  similar  origin.  Still  another  name  is  "Gabriel  hounds," 
originating,  it  is  thought  in  Scandinavia,  and  explained 
by  the  fact  that  there  the  calling  to  one  another  of  bean- 
geese  in  their  nocturnal  journeys,  in  spring,  have  a 
singular  resemblance  to  the  yelping  of  beagles;  and  the 
story  is  that  Gabriel  is  obliged  to  follow  his  spectral  pack, 
said  to  be  human-headed,  high  in  the  dark  air,  as  a 
punishment  for  having  once  hunted  on  Sunday. 

Wordsworth  in  one  of  his  sonnets  connects  this  belief 
with  the  German  legend  of  the  Wild  Huntsman,  "doomed 
the  flying  hart  to  chase  forever  on  aerial  grounds."  A 
Lancashire  explanation,  quoted  by  Moncure  D.  Conway 
is  that  these  migrants,  there  deemed  to  be  plovers,  were 
"Wandering  Jews,"  so  called  because  they  contained  the 
souls  of  Jews  who  assisted  at  the  Crucifixion,  and  in  con- 
sequence were  condemned  to  float  in  the  air  forever.  A 
curious  coincidence,  given  by  Skeat,7  is  that  the  Malays 
have  an  elaborate  story  of  a  spectral  huntsman,  and  hear 
him  in  the  nocturnal  notes  of  the  birikbirik,  a  nightjar. 

It  is  hardly  more  than  a  century  ago  that  intelligent 
men  abandoned  the  belief  that  certain  birds  hibernated  in 
hollow  trees,  caverns,  or  even  buried  themselves  every 
autumn  in  the  mud  at  the  bottom  of  ponds,  and  then  re- 


covered  in  the  spring.  This  theory  is  of  great  antiquity, 
and  was  applied  especially  to  the  swallows,  swifts,  night- 
ingales and  corncrakes  of  the  Mediterranean  region;  but 
even  Aristotle  doubted  whether  it  was  true  of  all  birds. 
He  discusses  at  some  length  in  his  Natural  History  a 
the  winter  retreat  of  fishes  and  other  creatures  that  hi- 
bernate, and  continues : 

"Many  kinds  of  birds  also  conceal  themselves,  and  they  do 
not  all,  as  some  suppose,  migrate  to  warmer  climes  .  .  .  and 
many  swallows  have  been  seen  in  hollow  places  almost  stripped 
of  feathers;  and  kites,  when  they  first  showed  themselves,  have 
come  from  similar  situations.  .  .  .  Some  of  the  doves  conceal 
themselves;  others  do  not,  but  migrate  along  with  the  swallows. 
The  thrush  and  the  starling  also  conceal  themselves." 

I  have  an  unverified  memorandum  from  the  pen  of 
Antonio  Galvano,  who  resided  in  Mexico,  long  ago,  that 
in  his  time  hummingbirds  'live  of  the  dew,  and  the  juyce 
of  flowers  and  roses.  They  die  or  sleeepe  every  yeere  in 
the  moneth  of  October,  sitting  upon  a  little  bough  in  a 
warme  and  close  place:  they  revive  or  wake  againe  in 
the  moneth  of  April  after  that  the  flowers  be  sprung,  and 
therefore  they  call  them  the  revived  birds." 

Even  Gilbert  White,45  was  inclined  to  think  hibernation 
might  be  true,  at  least  of  British  swallows ;  and  Cowper 
sings — 

The   swallows    in   their   torpid   state 
Compose  their  useless  wings. 

Alexander  Wilson 46  thought  it  necessary  to  combat 
vigorously  the  same  fiction  then  persistent  among  Penn- 
sylvania farmers,  and  did  so  at  length  in  his  American 
Ornithology  published  in  1808. 

But  the  wildest  hypothesis  was  the  one  prevalent  in  the 


Middle  Ages  and  alluded  to  by  Dryden  in  his  poem  The 
Hind  and  The  Panther,  speaking  of  young  swallows  in 
autumn : 

They  try  their  fluttering  wings  and  trust  themselves  in  air, 

But  whether  upward  to  the  moon  they  go, 

Or  dream  the  winter  out  in  caves  below, 

Or  hawk  for  flies  elsewhere,  concerns  us  not  to  know. 

Southwards,  you  may  be  sure,  they  bent  their  flight, 

And  harbored  in  a  hollow  rock  by  night. 

Or  as  Gay's  shepherd  surmises:  8 

He  sung  where  woodcocks  in  the  summer  feed, 
And  in  what  climates  they  renew  their  breed; 
Some  think  to  northern  coasts  their  flight  tend, 
Or  to  the  moon  in  midnight  hours  ascend: 
When  swallows  in  the  winter  season  keep, 
And  how  the  drowsy  bat  and  dormouse  sleep. 

A  quaint  theological  justification  of  this  theory  that 
birds  fly  to  the  moon  as  a  winter-resort  is  to  be  found  in 
Volume  VI  of  The  Harleian  Miscellany.  It  is  entitled 
"An  Inquiry  into  the  Physical  and  Literal  Sense  of  the 
Scriptures/'  and  is  an  exegesis  of  Jeremiah  viii,  7:  "The 
stork  in  the  heaven  knoweth  her  appointed  time,  and  the 
turtle  and  the  crane  and  the  swallow  observe  the  time 
of  their  coming.,,  The  reverend  commentator,  whose 
name  is  lost,  begins  at  once  to  explain  migration  among 
birds.  He  first  assures  his  readers  that  many  birds,  in- 
cluding storks,  often  fly  on  migration  at  a  height  that 
renders  them  indiscernible.  Now,  he  argues,  if  the  flight 
of  storks  had  been  in  a  horizontal  direction  flocks  of 
birds  would  have  been  seen  frequently  by  travellers — 
ignoring  the  fact  that  they  are  and  always  have  been  ob- 
served.   But,  he  goes  on,  as  the  flight  is  not  horizontal  it 



must  be  perpendicular  to  the  surface  of  the  earth,  and, 
therefore,  it  becomes  clear  that  the  moon  would  be  the 
first  resting-place  the  birds  would  be  likely  to  strike, 
whereupon  he  draws  this  conclusion:  "Therefore  the 
stork,  and  the  same  may  be  said  of  other  season-observing 
birds,  till  some  place  more  fit  can  be  assigned  to  them,  does 
go  unto,  and  remain  in  some  one  of  the  celestial  bodies ; 
and  that  must  be  the  moon,  which  is  most  likely  because 
nearest,  and  bearing  most  relation  to  this  our  earth,  as 
appears  in  the  Copernican  scheme;  yet  is  the  distance 
great  enough  to  denominate  the  passage  thither  an  itine- 
ration or  journey." 

The  author  next  clinches  the  matter  by  taking  the 
time  that  the  stork  is  absent  from  its  nesting-place,  and 
showing  how  it  is  utilized.  Two  months  are  occupied  in 
the  upward  flight,  three  for  rest  and  refreshment,  and 
two  more  for  the  return  passage.  Thus  this  ingenious 
writer  lays  what  he  considers  a  solid  scientific  foundation 
beneath  an  ancient  and  vague  theory. 

The  sudden  vanishing  of  some  migratory  birds  while 
others  resembling  them  remained  in  view  gave  to  ancient 
ignorance — not  yet  altogether  dissipated,  even  in  these 
United  States — the  belief  that  a  bird  might  change  into 
the  form  of  another.  The  difference  noticed  in  plumage 
in  some  species  in  summer  and  winter  was  accounted  for 
in  the  same  way,  as  many  old  Greek  myths  illustrate. 
Thus  Sophocles,  trying  in  one  of  his  dramas  to  explain 
an  inconsistency  between  two  versions  of  the  myth  of 
Tereus,  declares  that  the  hoopoe  of  the  older  story  is  the 
hawk  of  the  newer  one — the  birds  were  altered,  not  the 
narrative.  He  was  easily  believed,  for  to  the  Greeks  of 
his  day  it  appeared  plain  that  birds  might  become  trans- 
formed into  others  birds.    Aristotle  took  great  pains  to 


show  the  absurdity  of  this  notion,  yet  it  has  held 
on.  Swann  tells  of  an  Englishman  who  declared  that  it 
was  well-known  that  sparrow-hawks  changed  into 
cuckoos  in  spring;  and  another  old  belief  is  that  the 
European  land-rail  becomes  in  winter  the  water-rail,  re- 
suming its  own  form  in  spring.  A  French  name  for  the 
land-rail,  by  the  way,  is  "king  of  the  quails,,,  because  the 
quails  chose  it  as  leader  in  their  migrations. 

One  of  the  most  picturesque  incidents  in  the  story  of 
the  wilderness-roving  of  the  Children  of  Israel,  who  were 
"murmuring"  for  the  fleshpots  of  Egypt,  is  the  sudden 
coming  of  quails  that  "filled  the  camp."  The  interpre- 
tation is  plain  that  a  migratory  host  of  these  birds  had 
settled  for  the  night  where  the  Hebrews,  or  some  of  them, 
were;  and  the  notable  point  is  their  abundance,  and  that 
they  had  disappeared  when  morning  came,  which  is 
characteristic.  These  quails  visit  Europe  in  summer  in 
prodigious  numbers  from  south  of  the  Mediterranean, 
and  are  netted  for  market  by  tens  of  thousands.  It  is 
said  that  in  old  times  the  bishops  of  Capri — Italy  receives 
the  greatest  flight — derived  a  large  part  of  their  wealth 
from  a  tax  on  the  catching  of  quails.  Pliny  alleges,  as 
an  example  of  the  immense  migrations  of  these  quails  in 
his  time,  that  often,  always  at  night,  they  settled  on  the 
sails  of  ships  and  so  sank  them.  This  really  seems 
possible  when  one  thinks  of  the  small  size  of  the  "ships" 
of  that  period,  and  recalls  that  flights  of  our  own  mi- 
grating pigeons  (now  extinct)  used  to  smash  down  stout 
branches  of  trees  by  the  weight  of  the  crowds  of  birds 
that  settled  on  them. 

Cranes  are  birds  of  striking  characteristics,  as  we  have 
seen,  and  seem  to  have  impressed  very  forcibly  the  ancient 
Greeks  as  well  as  recent  Orientals,  the  latter  finding  in 


them  an  extraordinary  symbolism.  The  Greeks  believed 
that  during  their  winter  absence  the  cranes  were  in  con- 
stant battle  with  the  Pygmies — 'That  small  infantry 
warred  on  by  cranes,"  as  Milton  characterized  those 
diminutive,  but  pugnacious  folks  who  lived  no  one  knew 
exactly  where,  but  certainly  at  the  ends  of  the  earth. 
'The  cranes  travel,"  Aristotle  records,  "from  Scythia  to 
the  marshes  in  the  higher  parts  of  Egypt  from  which  the 
Nile  originates.  This  is  the  place  where  the  Pygmies 
dwell ;  and  this  is  no  fable,  for  there  is  really,  it  is  said, 
a  race  of  dwarfs,  both  men  and  horses,  which  lead  the 
life  of  troglodytes." 

When  the   shrill   clouds  of   Cranes  do   give   alarmes, 
The  valiant  Pigmy  stands  unto  his  armes: 
Straight,  too  weak  for  the  Thracian  bird,  he's  swept, 
And  through  the  eye  in  crooked  tallons  rapt.48 

But  this  is  only  one  item  in  the  crane's  list  of  wonders. 
When  this  bird  migrates  it  always  flies  against  the  wind, 
according  to  ancient  bird-minders,  and  carries  a 
swallowed  stone  as  ballast  so  that  it  may  not  be  swept  out 
of  its  course  by  a  change  of  wind;  and  this  stone  when 
it  is  vomited  up  is  useful  as  a  touchstone  for  gold.  Aris- 
totle had  heard  of  this  ballasting  precaution,  and  ex- 
pressly denies  it,  but  he  says  nothing  about  other  stones 
associated  with  the  history  of  the  bird,  perhaps  because 
they  had  not  been  discovered  in  his  day.  The  sagacious 
cranes  were  also  said  to  post  sentinels,  while  halting  at 
night,  and  to  insure  their  necessary  vigilance  these  senti- 
nels were  required  to  stand  on  one  foot,  and  to  hold  in 
the  other,  uplifted  one  a  large  stone.  Should  one  of 
these  sentinel-birds  drowse  the  stone  would  drop  and  by 
its  noise  awaken  the  sleepy  sentry.  This  explains  the 
fact  that  in  British  heraldry  the  crane  is  always  repre- 


sented  with  a  bit  of  rock  in  its  fist,  the  pose  signifying 

Lyly,49  in  that  queer  old  book  Euphucs,  confesses: 
"What  I  have  done  was  only  to  keep  myselfe  from  sleepe, 
as  the  Crane  doth  the  Stone  in  her  foote;  and  I  would 
also,  with  the  same  Crane,  that  I  had  been  silent,  holding 
a  Stone  in  my  mouth."  His  16th-century  readers  under- 
stood this  second  simile,  for  they  remembered  that  cranes 
were  said  to  be  thus  gagged  when  migrating,  so  as  not 
to  utter  any  cries  that  would  bring  eagles  or  other  birds  of 
prey  to  attack  them. 

This,  perhaps,  will  be  the  most  appropriate  place  to 
mention  some  other  quaint  but  widely  credited  stories  of 
birds  possessed  of  stones,  although  they  are  not  usually 
connected  with  migratory  habits. 

The  people  of  Rome  in  the  old  days  were  told  of  a 
crystalline  stone  called  alec  tonus,  as  large  as  a  bean,  to 
be  found  in  the  gizzard  of  the  barnyard  cock.  It  was 
held  to  have  wonderful  properties,  endowing  its  possessor 
with  strength,  courage,  and  success  with  women  and 
money,  and  to  this  apparently  complete  list  of  virtues  is 
added  by  one  historian  the  quality  of  invisibility.  This 
last  virtue  also  pertained  to  the  stone  placed  by  the  raven 
in  the  throat  of  its  fledging,  but  the  formalities  described 
as  necessary  for  anyone  who  sought  to  obtain  it  were 
quite  impossible  to  fulfil.  "It  may,  indeed,"  as  Hulme  38 
remarks,  "have  had  the  same  effect  on  the  original  owner* 
as  there  could  scarcely  be  an  authentic  instance  of  such 
peculiar  property  being  found."  On  the  other  hand  we 
are  told  that  a  stone  from  the  hoopoe,  when  laid  upon  the 
breast  of  a  sleeping  man,  forced  him  to  reveal  any 
rogueries  he  might  have  committed. 

It  is  stated  in  Cassell's  Natural  History  (Vol.  IV), 


that  in  India  exists  a  popular  superstition  that  if  you  will 
split  the  head  of  an  adjutant  stork  before  death  you  may 
extract  from  the  skull  "the  celebrated  stone  called  sahir 
mora,  or  'poison-killer,'  of  great  virtue  and  repute  as  an 
antidote  to  all  kinds  of  poison."  One  would  suppose  that 
all  the  adjutants  in  India  would  long  ago  have  been  ex- 
terminated, but  in  fact  this  is  one  of  the  most  numerous 
of  birds  there — the  scavenger  of  every  village. 

The  common  swallow  was  once  believed  to  have  two 
of  these  miraculous  stones  stowed  away  somewhere  in  its 
interior.  One  was  red,  and  cured  an  invalid  instantly:  the 
other,  a  black  one,  brought  good  fortune.  Also,  it  was 
reported,  swallows  found  on  a  seabeach,  by  some  sort  of 
inspiration,  a  particular  kind  of  stone  which  would  re- 
store sight  to  the  blind;  and  it  was  to  this  legend  that 
Longfellow  alluded  in  Evangeline — 

Seeking  with  eager  eyes  that  wondrous  stone  which  the  swallow 
Brings  from  the  shore  of  the  sea  to  restore  the  sight  of  her 

Various  birds  also  gave,  or  strengthened,  sight  to  their 
young  by  means  of  certain  plants  mentioned  by  old 
herbalists.  Finally,  it  should  not  be  overlooked  that  on 
page  152  of  the  most  recent  edition  of  Cruden's  celebrated 
Concordance51  to  the  Bible,  among  the  generally 
astonishing  notes  beneath  the  word  "eagle"  is  printed  the 
following:  "It  is  said  that  it  preserves  its  nest  from 
poison,  by  having  therein  a  precious  stone,  named  Aetites 
(without  which  it  is  thought  the  eagle  cannot  lay  her 
eggs,  and  which  some  use  to  prevent  abortion  and  help 
delivery  in  women,  by  tying  it  above  or  below  the  navel) 
and  keepeth  it  clean  by  the  frequent  use  of  the  herb 


Now  it  is  all  well  enough  to  find  this  information  in  the 
writings  of  Pliny  senior,  who  alleges  that  these  "eagle- 
stones"  (in  fact  natural  hollow  nodules  of  iron-impreg- 
nated clay)  were  transported  by  nesting  eagles  to  their 
domiciles  to  assist  them  in  ovulation,  whence  by  analogy — 
recognizing  unwittingly  the  kinship  of  men  and  animals — 
they  would  aid  women  in  travail,  and  to  smile  over  it  with 
the  shrewd  editor  of  Vulgar  Errors,33  but  it  is  odd  to  find 
such  an  absurdity  recommended  by  a  modern  clergyman 
as  "profitable"  material  for  sermons. 

Let  me  round  out  this  chapter  with  that  recognition  of 
bird-migration  in  the  custom  among  the  Vikings  of  the 
8th  and  9th  centuries  of  saying  as  they  embarked  upon 
some  raid  upon  the  coasts  south  of  them  that  they  were 
"following  the  swan's  path." 


OUR  first  thought  when  we  hear  the  word  "deluge" 
is  of  Noah  and  his  Ark,  and  the  funny  toy  of  our 
childhood  rises  to  the  mind's  eye.  In  that  child- 
hood we  had  no  doubt  that  the  flood  described  in  the 
first  book  of  the  Old  Testament  covered  the  whole  globe. 
Now  we  know  that  the  story  is  a  Semitic  tradition,  per- 
haps nothing  more  than  a  sun-myth  in  origin,  although 
the  actual  occurrence  of  some  extraordinary  inundation 
may  have  got  mixed  with  it  and  localized  it.  In  fact,  the 
belief  in  an  all-submerging  deluge,  or,  in  what  is  its 
equivalent — namely,  a  time  when  the  world  was  a  plain 
of  water  with  no  land  above  its  quiet  surface — is  a  part 
of  the  mythology  or  theology,  or  both,  of  many  diverse 
peoples  in  both  hemispheres ;  and  almost  always  birds  are 
prominently  associated  with  its  incidents  and  the  ensuing 
separation  of  land  from  water. 

A  surprising  number  of  persons  of  ordinary  intelli- 
gence even  now,  and  in  this  enlightened  country,  continue 
to  regard  beds  of  water- worn  gravels,  and  the  fossil 
shells,  etc.,  seen  in  the  rocks,  as  relics  of  the  Noachian 
deluge,  and  "diluvian"  and  "antediluvian"  are  terms  that 
hardly  yet  have  disappeared  from  popular  geology. 

The  earliest  available  accounts  of  such  a  deluge  as  the 
Noachian  are  engraved  on  clay  tablets  recovered  from 
the  ruins  of  Babylonia,  and  written  2000  or  more  years 
before  the  beginning  of  the  Christian  era.    Several  narra- 


tives  have  been  deciphered,  agreeing  in  the  facts  of  a 
vast  destruction  by  water  in  Mesopotamia,  and  of  a 
relatively  huge  house-boat  built  by  a  chosen  family  for 
the  preservation  of  themselves  and  an  extensive  collection 
of  livestock.  After  floating  about  for  seven  days  this 
Babylonian  ship  grounded  on  a  submerged  hill-top,  and 
seven  days  later  the  patriarchal  shipmaster  sent  out  as  ex- 
plorers a  dove,  a  swallow,  and  a  raven.  The  dove  and  the 
swallow  returned,  the  raven  did  not. 

The  close  similarity  between  this  and  the  Biblical  ac- 
count of  Noah's  voyage  on  a  world  of  waters  (which 
account  appears  to  be  a  combination  of  two  separate 
legends)  leads  to  the  opinion  that  the  whole  narrative  is 
derived  from  some  more  ancient  and  widespread  Oriental 
tradition ;  and  there  seems  fair  evidence  that  it  does  not 
describe  any  physical  happening  at  all,  but  is  a  symbolical 
sun-myth,  a  hint  of  which  is  given,  even  in  the  Bible,  by 
the  incident  of  the  rainbow.  Let  me  quote  the  history  in 
Genesis  so  far  as  it  relates  to  our  purpose : 

"And  it  came  to  pass  at  the  end  of  forty  days  that  Noah 
opened  the  window  of  the  ark  which  he  had  made:  and  he  sent 
forth  a  raven  which  went  forth  to  and  fro  until  the  waters 
were  dried  up  from  off  the  earth.  Also  he  sent  forth  a  dove 
from  him,  to  see  if  the  waters  were  abated  from  off  the  face  of 
the  ground.  But  the  dove  found  no  rest  for  the  sole  of  her 
foot,  and  she  returned  unto  him  into  the  ark;  for  the  waters 
were  on  the  face  of  the  whole  earth.  Then  he  put  forth  his 
hand  and  took  her,  and  pulled  her  in  unto  him  into  the  ark. 
And  he  stayed  yet  other  seven  days;  and  again  he  sent  forth 
the  dove  out  of  the  ark.  And  the  dove  came  in  unto  him  in 
the  evening,  and,  lo,  in  her  mouth  was  an  olive-leaf  plucked  off: 
so  Noah  knew  that  the  waters  were  abated  from  off  the  earth. 
And  he  stayed  yet  other  seven  days,  and  sent  forth  the  dove, 
which  returned  not  again  unto  him  any  more. 

As  to  the  choice  of  these  particular  birds  out  of  Noah's 


great  aviary,  it  is  well  to  remember  that  doves  were  sacred 
in   ancient   Babylonia   to    Ishtar,    who,    as    the   deified 
(female)    personification  of  productiveness,   co-existent 
with  the  (male)  Sun-god,  was  sometimes  designated  as 
Mother-goddess,  or  even  as  "Mother  Earth":    so  that  it 
would  be  highly  appropriate  to  send  first  a  dove  as  a 
messenger  to  this  incarnation  of  fruitful  land.    This  falls 
in  with  Moncure  D.  Conway's  suggestion  56  that  the  dove 
and  raven  were   tribally   "sacred"    animals  among  the 
people  affected  by  this  Babylonian  deluge.     The  choice 
of  the  swallow  was  natural,  when  one  remembers  its 
habit  of  flying  long  and  far  over  bodies  of  water;  and 
that  the  raven  should  not  come  back  is  in  keeping  with  its 
character  as  much  as  is  the  quick  return  of  the  semi- 
domestic  dove  and  swallow.     Dr.  Laufer52  notes  that 
St.  Ambrose,  in  his  treatise  De  Noe  et  Area,  devotes  a 
whole  chapter  to  the  "crow's"  impiety  in  not  returning  to 
the  Ark.    The  Arabs,  according  to  Keane, 14  even  yet  call 
this  bird  "raven  of  separation,"  meaning  the  separation 
of  the  water  from  the  land  at  the  close  of  the  Flood.    An- 
other Arabic  source,  quoted  by  Baring-Gould  from  the 
medieval  Chronicle  of  Abou-djafer  Tabari,  transmits  tra- 
ditional particulars  that  considerably  extend   the  too- 
laconic  Biblical  log  of  the  Ark.    "When  Noah  had  left  the 
Ark,"  it  relates,  "he  passed  forty  days  on  the  mountain, 
till  all  the  water  had  subsided  into  the  sea.  .  .  .  Noah 
said  to  the  raven,  'Go  and  place  your  foot  on  the  earth, 
and  see  what  is  the  depth  of  the  water.'    The  raven  de- 
parted, but  having  found  a  carcass  it  remained  to  devour 
it  and  did  not  return.    Noah  was  provoked,  and  he  cursed 
the  raven,   saying,   'May  God  make  thee  contemptible 
among  men,  and  let  carrion  be  thy  food.'  " 

Johann  von  Herder,  the  poet  and  friend  of  Goethe, 


either  found  or  invented  another  story  to  account  for  the 
curse  resting  on  the  raven,  which  runs  thus  in  the  words 
of  an  old  translator: 

Anxiously  did  Noah  look  forth  from  his  swimming  ark,  wait- 
ing to  see  the  waters  of  the  flood  abate.  Scarcely  had  the 
peaks  of  the  highest  mountains  emerged  from  the  waves,  when 
he  called  all  the  fowls  around  him.  "Who  among  you,"  said 
he,  "will  be  the  messenger  to  go  forth  and  see  whether  the 
time  of  our  deliverance  is  nigh?"  The  raven  with  much  noise 
crowded  hastily  in  before  all  the  rest:  he  longed  ardently  for 
his  favorite  food.  Scarcely  was  the  window  open,  when  he  flew 
away  and  returned  no  more.  The  ungrateful  bird  forgot  his 
errand  and  the  interests  of  his  benefactor — he  hung  at  his 
carcass !  But  punishment  did  not  delay.  The  air  was  yet  filled 
with  poisonous  fog,  and  heavy  vapors  hung  over  the  putrid 
corpses;  these  blinded  his  eyes  and  darkened  his  feathers.  As 
a  punishment  for  his  forgetfulness,  his  memory  as  well  as  his 
sight  became  dim;  even  his  own  young  he  did  not  recognize; 
and  he  experienced  towards  them  no  feelings  of  parental  joy. 

Quoting  again  the  Arab  chronicler  Abou-djafer  Tabari: 
"After  that  Noah  sent  forth  the  dove.  The  dove  de- 
parted, and  without  tarrying  put  her  foot  in  the  water. 
The  water  of  the  Flood  scalded  and  pricked  the  legs  of 
the  dove.  It  was  hot  and  briny  and  feathers  would  not 
grow  on  her  legs  any  more,  and  the  skin  scaled  off.  Now, 
doves  which  have  red  and  featherless  legs  are  of  the  sort 
that  Noah  sent  forth.  The  dove  returning  showed  her 
legs  to  Noah,  who  said :  'May  God  render  thee  well  pleas- 
ing to  men/  For  that  reason  the  dove  is  dear  to  men's 

Still  another  Arabic  version,  given  by  Gustav  Weil,  is 
that  Noah  blessed  the  dove,  and  since  then  she  has  borne 
a  necklace  of  green  feathers;  but  the  raven  he  cursed, 
that  its  flight  should  be  crooked — never  direct  like  that  of 
other  birds.    This  is  also  a  Jewish  legend.    A  more  mod- 


ern  addendum  is  that  the  magpie,  one  of  the  same  group 
of  birds,  was  not  permitted  to  enter  the  ark,  but  was 
compelled  to  perch  on  the  roof  because  it  gabbled  so  in- 
cessantly. A  quaint  14th-century  manuscript  quoted  by 
Hulme38  says  of  the  raven's  exit  from  the  ark: 

Then  opin  Noe  his  window 

Let  ut  a  rauen  and  forth  he  flew 

Dune  and  vp  sought  heare  and  thare 

A  stede  to  sett  upon  somequar. 

Vpon  the  water  sone  he  fand 

A  drinkled  best  ther  flotand 

Of  that  flees   was  he   so    fain 
To  ship  came  he  never  again. 

To  this  list  of  messengers  medieval  tradition  added  a 
fourth — the  kingfisher,  which  in  Europe  is  blue-green 
above  and  rich  chestnut  on  the  breast.  At  that  time,  how- 
ever, it  was  a  plain  gray  bird.  This  scout  flew  straight  up 
to  heaven,  in  order  to  get  a  wide  survey  of  the  waters, 
and  went  so  near  the  sun  that  its  breast  was  scorched  to 
its  present  tint  and  its  back  assumed  the  color  of  the  sky 
overhead.  (This  recalls  Thoreau's  saying  that  our  blue- 
bird carries  the  sky  on  its  back  and  the  earth  on  its 

Faith  in  a  general  flood  long  ago  is  shown  by  primitive 
documents  to  have  prevailed  not  only  in  Asia  Minor  and 
eastward,  but  in  Persia,  India  and  Greece.  It  did  not 
prevail  in  Europe  generally,  nor  in  Africa.  On  the  other 
hand  missionaries  report  traditions  of  it  in  Polynesia — 
where,  curiously,  geographers  find  evidence  of  great  sub- 
sidences since  the  archipelagoes  affected  have  been  in- 
habited ;  and  certainly  it  was  a  part  of  the  mythical  pre- 
history of  many  tribes  among  the  aborigines  of  North 
America,  where  birds  were  often  connected  with  the  ad- 


ventures  of  the  few  or  solitary  survivors  by  means  of 
whom  the  world  was  repeopled.  Thus  scores,  perhaps 
hundreds,  of  varying  traditions  and  fables  exist  of  the 
creation  of  the  earth  out  of  a  chaos  of  water,  or  of  its 
restoration  after  having  been  drowned  in  a  universal 
flood ;  and  often  it  is  hard  to  distinguish  the  creation-myth 
from  the  deluge-tale. 

The  American  story-material  of  this  nature  may  be 
divided  into  groups  that  would  correspond  roughly  to  the 
various  aboriginal  language-stocks,  betraying  a  family 
likeness  in  each  group,  but  showing  tribal  variations  as  a 
rule  connected  with  each  particular  tribal  or  mythical 
"first  man,"  or  with  the  totemic  ancestor. 

The  creation-legends,  as  such,  do  not  concern  us  much. 
They  are  of  purely  mythical,  supernatural  beings  of 
various  sorts,  descending  from  the  sky  or  coming  up  out 
of  the  underworld,  and  either  finding  a  readymade  earth 
to  dwell  upon  or  else  creating  one  by  magic.  Some 
Southern  darkies  will  tell  you  that  the  blue  jay  made  the 
earth.  "When  all  de  worF  was  water  he  brung  de  fust 
grit  er  dirt."  The  strangest  conception  of  this  kind  is  not 
American  but  that  of  the  Ainus  of  northern  Japan,  who 
say  that  the  earth  originally  was  a  sterile,  cold,  unin- 
habitable and  dreadful  quagmire.  The  creator  existed 
aloft,  however,  and  finally  made  and  despatched  a  water- 
wagtail  to  construct  a  place  habitable  for  men.  The  bird 
fluttered  over  the  water-spaces,  trampled  the  thin  mud 
and  beat  it  down  with  its  feet.  Thus  ground  was 
gradually  hardened  and  elevated  in  spots,  the  water 
steadily  drained  away  and  good  soil  was  left.  Hence  the 
Ainus  hold  the  little  wagtail  in  almost  worshipful  esteem. 

Let  us,  however,  restrict  the  inquiry  to  North  America, 
and  to  the  deluge-story  proper — that  is,  the  destruction  of 


human  life  by  water  overwhelming  a  flourishing  world, 
and  the  subsequent  restoration. 

The  widely  spread  Algonkin  stock  has  many  such 
legends,  in  which  one  or  several  persons  and  animals  sur- 
vive by  floating  in  a  canoe  or  raft,  and  at  their  behest  a 
beaver  or  a  muskrat — the  most  natural  agents — bring  up 
from  the  bottom  a  little  mud,  which  is  expanded  by  magic 
into  a  new  continent ;  but  frequently  birds  do  this  service 
or  otherwise  help  to  form  livable  conditions.  The  Lenni 
Lenape  (Delawares)  had  a  tradition  of  a  universal  deluge 
in  the  far  distant  past,  which  Dr.  Brinton 27  recounted  as 
follows,  assuring  us  that  it  is  unmixed  with  any  teaching 
by  white  missionaries:  "The  few  people  that  survived 
had  taken  refuge  on  the  back  of  a  turtle  who  had  reached 
so  great  an  age  that  his  shell  was  mossy,  like  the  bank  of 
a  runlet.  In  this  forlorn  condition  a  loon  flew  that  way, 
which  they  asked  to  dive  and  bring  up  land.  He  complied 
but  found  no  bottom.  Then  he  flew  away  and  returned 
with  a  small  quantity  of  earth  in  his  bill.  Guided  by  him, 
the  turtle  swam  to  a  place  where  a  spot  of  dry  land  was 
found.  There  the  survivors  settled  and  re-peopled  the 

Few  legends  explain  how  or  why  the  flood  occurred. 
The  Ojibways,  however,  say  that  it  was  the  result  of  the 
malice  of  an  underground  monster  visualized  as  a  huge 
serpent  (recalling  the  earth-dragon  of  the  Chinese),  which 
throughout  all  their  mythology  is  the  antagonist  of  the 
good,  constructive  genius  represented  by  their  tribal  hero 

The  Beaver  Indians  of  the  Mackenzie  Valley  offer  a 
more  materialistic  and  more  picturesque  explanation. 
They  told  George  Keith,  one  of  the  fur-traders  there  a 
century  ago,  whose  Letters  are  printed  in  Masson's  col- 


lection  of  northern  archives,"  that  the  deluge  resulted 
from  the  sudden  melting  of  a  snowfall  so  deep  that  tall 
trees  were  buried.  This  disastrous  melting  was  produced 
by  the  release  of  the  sun  from  a  bug  in  which  it  had  been 
hidden  by  sorcery.  Then  the  sun  flew  away  and  began 
to  shed  its  heat.    There's  a  sun-myth  for  you ! 

In  the  resulting  freshet  so  philosophically  accounted  for 
the  few  persons  who  had  been  left  unburied  in  the  world 
of  snow  fled  toward  a  high  mountain,  but  only  a  man 
and  a  woman  reached  it.  On  this  mountain  were  gathered 
pairs  of  all  the  kinds  of  animals  in  the  country.  The  flood 
persisted,  and  there  was  nothing  to  eat.  Then  the  mal- 
lard, the  little  grebe,  or  hell-diver,  and  the  buzzard  (?) 
were  sent  to  dive  into  the  sea  and  try  to  find  its  bottom. 
All  failed  repeatedly,  but  the  buzzard  dived  again  a  few 
days  later,  and  came  up  with  his  bill  full  of  earth,  which 
showed  that  the  flood  was  subsiding.  Finally  the  waters 
drained  away  or  dried  up,  but  the  soil  had  been  so  ruined 
by  submergence  that  not  even  roots  could  be  found  to 
serve  as  food.  When  everybody  was  nearly  starved,  how- 
ever, the  human  pair  and  the  animals  succeeded  in  finding 
the  home  of  Raven,  who  lived  far  away,  and  from  his 
stores  they  obtained  food.  Then  a  new  world  of  life 

The  Cheyennes  and  the  Arikarees  say  that  at  the  height 
of  the  flood  "a  person"  (masculine)  was  floating  in  the 
water  with  all  sorts  of  aquatic  birds  swimming  about 
him.  He  asked  that  one  of  them  dive  and  get  some  earth. 
All  tried  it  and  failed  until  a  small  duck  brought  up  a 
little  mud  in  its  beak  and  gave  it  to  the  man.  He  kneaded 
it  with  his  fingers  until  it  was  dry,  then  made  little  piles  of 
it  on  the  surface  of  the  water,  which  enlarged  and 
coalesced  into  a  wide  plain. 


The  Chitimacha  Indians  of  northern  Lousiana  used  to 
relate  that  a  great  deluge  came,  whereupon  the  redheaded 
woodpecker  went  up  to  the  sky  and  hung  by  his  claws 
to  escape  drowning,  but  his  tail  hung  down  into  the  dirty 
water  and  was  stained  black,  as  you  now  see  it.  The 
Pimas  and  other  tribes  of  Arizona  tell  similar  stories  of 
certain  birds,  one  clan  of  Pueblo  Indians  putting  it  on  the 
turkey.  They  say  that  a  flood  was  produced  by  the  god 
Baholi  Konga  to  punish  tribal  wickedness.  The  good 
persons  in  the  community  escaped  this  punishment  by 
means  of  the  fact  that  Baholi  Konga  had  clothed  them  in 
turkey-skins,  enabling  them  to  fly  to  the  high  mountains. 
They  flew  too  low,  however,  and  the  tails  of  their  dresses 
dragged  in  the  water,  the  stain  of  which  is  still  visible. 

With  one  more  and  a  rather  pretty  tale  from  the  tradi- 
tions of  the  Paiute  Indians,  whose  home  is  in  the  region 
of  the  Grand  Canyon  of  the  Colorado,  I  must  close  this 
glance  at  aboriginal  legends  of  a  deluge  here  in  America. 
These  Indians  relate  that  formerly  the  whole  world  was 
under  water  save  the  summit  of  Mt.  Grant,  on  which 
existed  a  fire.  It  was  the  only  fire  in  the  universe,  and  it 
would  have  been  extinguished  when  the  wind  blew  hard 
and  the  waves  were  dashed  against  the  peak  had  not  the 
sage-hen  settled  down  there  and  fanned  away  the  water 
with  her  wings;  but  while  doing  this  inestimable  ser- 
vice to  mankind  the  heat  of  the  precious  flame  scorched 
her  breast,  and  that  accounts  for  its  present  blackness. 

A  curiously  similar  story,  which  illustrates  the  primi- 
tive savage's  perception  that  obtaining  fire  was  the  most 
important,  the  first,  thing  to  do  in  beginning  or  recon- 
stituting a  habitable  world,  appears  in  the  folklore  of  the 
Arawaks  of  British  Guiana,  and  may  well  be  told  among 
deluge  myths.    They  assure  you  that  the  world  was  once 


engulfed  in  a  flood  that  left  exposed  only  a  hilltop  where 
grew  some  tall  cocoanut  palms.  The  heavenly  leader, 
Sigu,  conducted  all  the  animals  to  this  hill  and  made  such 
as  could  go  up  the  trees,  while  others  were  placed  in  a 
cave  sealed  water-tight  with  wax.  (It  was  during  that 
long,  distressful  waiting  in  the  palm-tops  that  the  howl- 
ing-monkeys perfected  the  agonizing  quality  of  their 
terrific  voices.)  Finally  the  waters  subsided  and  the 
agami  (the  trumpeter,  Psophia  crepitans)  ventured  too 
soon  upon  the  ground  in  search  of  food ;  thereupon  hordes 
of  starved  ants,  issuing  from  their  half-drowned  nests, 
swarmed  upon  its  legs,  then  of  respectable  size,  and  so 
nearly  devoured  them  that  only  the  sticklike  shanks  now 
characteristic  of  the  bird  remained.  Sigu  rescued  the  un- 
fortunate agami,  and  then  with  infinite  trouble  kindled  a 
fire  with  a  spark  that  the  maroodie  (or  guan,  a  fellow- 
bird  with  the  agami  of  South- American  barnyards)  had 
snapped  up  in  mistake  for  a  shining  red  insect.  The  guan 
tried  to  shift  the  blame  for  this  sinful  error  upon  the 
alligator  but  failed  to  do  so,  for  his  own  guilt  was  be- 
trayed by  the  glowing  spark  that  had  stuck  in  his  throat, 
as  one  may  see  by  looking  at  any  guan  to-day. 

Another  instance  of  the  misfortunes  of  the  trumpeter 
is  related  by  Leo  Miller 53  as  he  heard  it  among  the 
Maquritari  Indians  who  live  on  the  headwaters  of  the 
Orinoco : 

In  the  very  beginning  of  things  a  trumpeter  and  a  curassow 
[a  near  cousin  of  the  guan]  decided  upon  a  matrimonial 
alliance,  but  domestic  troubles  soon  broke  out,  and  there  was  no 
possibility  of  a  reconciliation;  it  was  thereupon  decided  to  lay 
the  case  before  the  gods  who  live  on  the  summit  of  Mount 
Duida.  The  wise  gods  ordered  them  to  fight  it  out.  In  the 
course  of  the  combat  that  followed  the  curassow  pushed  the 
trumpeter  into  the  fire,  burning  off  the  feathers  of  the  latter's 


tail.  The  trumpeter  promptly  retaliated  by  pushing  her  mate 
into  the  fire,  singeing  his  crest.  Thereupon  the  gods  decided 
that  they  should  remain  in  this  humiliating  plight  for  the  rest 
of  their  days,  and  so  .  .  .  the  curassow  wears  a  curled  crest 
and  the  trumpeter  has  a  very  short  tail. 

I  am  tempted,  in  spite  of  my  intention  to  stop  here,  to 
annex  an  elaborate  and  somewhat  amusing  creation-myth 
of  the  Yocut  Indians  of  southern  California,  because  it  is 
both  appropriate  and  picturesque.  It  is  thus  set  down  by 

Once  there  was  a  time  when  there  was  nothing  in  the  world 
but  water.  About  the  place  where  Tulare  Lake  now  is,  there 
was  a  pole  standing  far  up  out  of  the  water,  and  on  this  pole, 
perched  a  hawk  and  a  crow  ...  for  many  ages.  At  length  they 
wearied  of  the  lonesomeness,  and  they  created  the  birds  which 
prey  on  fish,  such  as  the  kingfisher,  eagle,  pelican,  and  others. 
Among  them  was  a  very  small  duck,  which  dived  down  to  the 
bottom  of  the  water,  picked  its  beak  full  of  mud,  came  up,  died, 
and  lay  floating  on  the  water.  The  hawk  and  crow  then  fell 
to  work  and  gathered  from  the  duck's  beak  the  earth  which  it 
had  brought  up,  and  commenced  making  the  mountains.  They 
began  at  the  place  now  known  as  Ta-hi-cha-pa  Pass,  and  the 
hawk  made  the  east  range,  while  the  crow  made  the  west  one. 
Little  by  little,  as  they  dropped  in  the  earth,  the  great  mountains 
grew  athwart  the  face  of  the  waters  pushing  north.  It  was  a 
work  of  many  years,  but  finally  they  met  at  Alt.  Shasta,  and 
their  labors  were  ended. 

But  behold,  when  they  compared  their  mountains  it  was 
found  that  the  crow's  was  a  great  deal  the  larger.  Then  the 
hawk  said  to  the  crow.  "How  did  this  happen,  you  rascal?  I 
warrant  you  have  been  stealing  the  earth  from  my  bill,  and  that 
is  why  your  mountains  are  the  biggest."  It  was  a  fact,  and  the 
crow  laughed  in  his  claws.  Then  the  hawk  went  and  got  some 
Indian  tobacco  and  chewed  it  and  it  made  him  exceedingly  wise. 
So  he  took  hold  of  the  mountains  and  turned  them  around  in  a 
circle,  putting  his  range  in  place  of  the  crow's;  and  that  is  why 
the  Sierra  Nevada  is  larger  than  the  Coast  Range. 



THE  crowing  of  a  cock  ushered  in  the  momentous 
tragedy  that  closed  the  earthly  career  of  Jesus  of 
Nazareth.  Jesus  had  told  one  of  his  disciples  in 
the  evening  of  the  Passover,  that  "the  cock  shall  not 
crow  this  day  before  that  thou  shalt  twice  deny  that  thou 
knowest  me"  {Luke,  xxii,  34).  Later  that  same  night 
Jesus  was  arrested  and  taken  into  the  house  of  the  Jewish 
high  priest,  and  when,  one  after  another,  three  persons 
had  identified  Peter  as  one  of  the  Disciples  Peter  each 
time  denied  it,  "and  immediately,  while  he  yet  spake,  the 
cock  crew.,, 

Although  the  cock  and  his  brood  have  had  a  part  in 
Oriental  and  classical  superstitions,  ceremonies,  and 
myths  since  these  things  began,  it  is  probable  that  Jesus 
had  in  mind  nothing  more  than  the  time  of  "cock- 
crowing,"  which  among  the  Jews  was  a  recognized  name 
of  the  third  watch  of  the  night,  beginning  at  three  o'clock 
in  the  morning.  Mark  enumerates  the  four  watch-divis- 
ions when  he  says:  "Ye  know  not  when  the  master  of 
the  house  cometh,  at  even,  or  at  midnight,  or  at  the  cock- 
crowing,  or  in  the  morning." 

Out  of  this  simple  matter,  a  natural  habit  of  the  bird, 
the  early  Christians,  with  the  avidity  of  zealots  for  in- 
spired pegs  on  which  to  hang  new  devotions,  set  up  many 
theories  and  customs.    For  instance,  I  find  in  the  English 



periodical  Nature  Notes  (VI,  189)  the  following,  trans- 
lated from  the  Treasury  of  Brunetti  Latini,  a  teacher  of 
Dante  in  the  poet's  youth:  "By  the  song  of  the  cock  we 
may  know  the  hour  of  the  night,  and  even  as  the  cock 
before  it  singeth  beateth  its  body  with  its  wings,  so  should 
a  man  before  he  prays  flagellate  himself."  To  this  added 
a  fourteenth-century  chant,  as  follows: 

Cock  at  midnight  croweth  loud, 

And  in  this  delighteth: 
But  before  he  crows,  his  sides 

With  his  wings  he  smiteth: 
So  the  priest  at  midnight,  when 

Him  from  rest  he  raiseth, 
Firstly  doeth  penitence, 

After  that  he  praiseth. 

Ratzel  mentions  that  in  Abyssinia  cocks  were  often 
placed  in  churches  as  living  alarm-clocks.  It  is  a  tradition 
that  at  the  moment  of  the  great  Birth  the  cock  crowed : 
Christus  natus  est!  Hence  as  early  as  the  4th  century 
arose  the  belief  in  its  crowing  always  on  Christmas 
eve — a  legend  alluded  to  by  Shakespeare: 

Some  say  that  ever  'gainst  that  season  comes 
Whereon  our  Saviour's  birth  is  celebrated, 
The  bird  of  dawning  singeth  all  night  long. 

By  a  similar  passage  in  Hamlet,  where  Bernardo, 
Heraldo,  and  Marcellus  are  discussing  the  apparition  of 
the  ghost  of  Hamlet's  father,  the  reader  learns  of  an- 
other ancient  superstition: 

Bern.  It  was  about  to  speak  when  the  cock  crew. 

Her.    And  then  it  started  like  a  guilty  thing 
Upon  a  fearful  summons.     I  have  heard 
The  cock,  that  is  the  trumpet  to  the  morn, 


Doth   with   his   lofty   and   shrill-sounding   throat 
Awake  the  god  of  clay;  and,  at  his  warning, 
Whether  in  sea  or  fire,  in  earth  or  air, 
The  extravagant  and  erring  spirit  hies 
To  his  confine:  and  of  the  truth  herein 
This  present  object  made  probation. 
Mar.    It  faded  on  the  crowing  of  the  cock. 

Not  only  ghosts,  but  the  Devil  and  all  his  powers  of 
darkness,  especially  warlocks  and  witches,  must  disappear 
at  Chanticleer's  cheerful  warning  that  daylight  is  at 

Domestic  fowls  had  become  common  in  Palestine  at  the 
time  of  Jesus,  having  been  received  long  before  from 
Persia.  According  to  the  Mishna  Jews  were  prohibited 
from  selling  a  white  cock  to  the  heathen  because  it  was  suit- 
able for  sacrifice,  but  if  it  were  defective  it  became  unsuit- 
able. Cyrus  Adler  tells  us  that  they  used  to  cut  off  a  toe,  and 
so  circumvent  the  prohibition.  Says  the  Talmud :  "There 
be  three  that  be  unyielding — Israel  among  the  peoples, 
the  dog  among  beasts,  and  the  cock  among  birds"  (Beca, 

No  doubt  it  is  true,  as  Mr.  R.  L.  Gales  pointed  out  a 
few  years  ago  in  the  National  Review,  that  the  sacred 
mythology  of  the  Nativity  and  Passion,  which  is  far 
wider  than  my  immediate  use  of  it,  sprang  up  when  the 
minds  of  people  constantly  dwelt  on  the  Faith  in  a  spirit 
of  devotion  rather  than  of  controversy.  "It  seems,  too, 
that  there  was  in  the  Christianity  of  the  earlier  ages 
something  that  we  may  perhaps  call  a  pantheistic  ele- 
ment, which  has  since  disappeared." 

Russians  tell  the  story  that  while  Christ  was  hanging 
on  the  cross  the  sparrows  were  maliciously  chirping  /if! 
jif!  that  is,  "He  is  living,  He  is  living!"  in  order  to  urge 
the  tormenters  to  fresh  cruelties ;  but  the  swallows  cried, 


with  opposite  intent,  Umer!  Umer!"  "Dead!  Dead!" 
Therefore  the  swallow  is  blessed,  but  the  sparrow  is 
under  a  curse,  and  ever  since  that  time  it  hops,  because  its 
legs  are  tied  together,  for  its  sin,  by  invisible  bonds. 
Another  story  is  that  the  sparrow  was  the  bird  that  be- 
trayed the  hiding-place  of  Jesus  in  the  Garden  at  Geth- 
semane,  whereas  all  other  birds  tried  to  entice  away  the 
officers  who  were  searching  for  him,  especially  the 
swallow,  whose  erratic  flight  still  shows  that  it  is  seeking 
to  find  him. 

The  oystercatcher  is  still  known  among  the  Gaels  of 
northern  Scotland  as  St.  Bride's  lad,  says  Seton  Gordon 
{Nineteenth  Century,  1927,,  p.  420)  from  the  fact  that 
when  that  saint  first  visited  Long  Island  she  carried  an 
oystercatcher  in  each  hand;  also,  there  is  an  old  Gaelic 
tradition  that  this  bird  covered  Jesus  with  seaweed  when 
his  enemies  appeared  in  hot  pursuit.  The  oystercatcher  was 
therefore  blessed,  and  still  shows,  as  it  flies,  the  form  of 
a  cross  on  its  plumage. 

A  Spanish  legend  asserts  that  the  owl  was  once  the 
sweetest  of  singers;  but  that,  having  been  present  when 
Jesus  died,  from  that  moment  it  has  shunned  daylight, 
and  now  only  repeats  in  a  harsh  tone  Cruz!   Cruz! 

Most  of  the  legends  of  the  Cross,  so  far  as  concern 
birds,  at  least,  seem  to  have  arisen  in  Sweden.  The 
Swedes  say,  for  example,  that  a  swallow  hovered  over  the 
Crucifixion  crying  Svale!  Svale!  "Cheer  up!  Cheer  up!" 
and  it  is  therefore  called  in  their  country  the  bird  of  con- 
solation. A  similar  story  is  current  in  Scandinavia  of  the 
stork,  which  is  said  to  have  cried  to  the  Redeemer,  as  it 
flew  about  the  Cross,  Styrket!  Styrket!  "Strengthen  ye." 
In  both  cases  there  is  a  play  on  the  Swedish  names  of 
these  birds;  but  they  testify  that  the  stork,  now  virtually 


mute,  formerly  had  a  voice.  In  Sweden,  where  the  red 
crossbill  is  a  familiar  winter  bird,  arose  the  tradition  that 
its  peculiarly  crossed  beak  became  twisted  by  its  efforts 
to  pull  the  nails  from  Christ's  hands  and  feet: 

Stained   with   blood   and   never   tiring 
With  its  beak  it  doth  not  cease, 

From  the  Cross  't  would  free  the  Saviour 
Its  creator's  son  release. 

And  the  Saviour  speaks  in  mildness: 

Blest  be  thou  of  all  the  good! 
Bear  as  token  of  this  moment 

Marks  of  blood  and  holy  rood. 

So  Longfellow  paraphrases  Julius  Mosen's  little  German 

The  same  loving  service  has  been  attributed  to  the  red- 
browed  goldfinch  of  Europe  in  a  legend  current  in  Great 
Britain — a  story  put  into  verse  in  The  Spectator 
(London,  19 10)  by  Pamela  Tenant,  partly  thus: 

Held  in  his  slender  beak  the  cruel  thing, 
Still  with  his  gentle  might  endeavoring 
But  to  release  it. 

Then  as  he  strove,  spake  One— a  dying  space- 
Take,  for  thy  pity,  as  a  sign  of  grace, 
'Semblance  of  this,  my  blood,  upon  thy  face 
'A  living  glory.' 

The  complaining  love-note  of  the  wood-pigeon  has,  in 
the  northwestern  part  of  Europe,  become  the  subject  of  a 
well-adapted  and  pathetic  myth,  as  Watters  57  denomi- 
nates it  in  his  entertaining  Birds  of  Ireland.  "It  is  said 
that  a  dove  perched  in  the  neighborhood  of  the  holy  cross 
when  the  Redeemer  was  expiring,  and,  wailing  its  notes 
of   sorrow,   kept  repeating  the   words   Tvyrie!   Kyrie!' 


[Kyrie  eleison — Lord  have  mercy !]  to  alleviate  the  agony 
of  his  dying  moments." 

Of  all  the  legends  connecting  birds  with  this  awful 
scene  those  relating  to  the  little  robin-redbreast  of  Europe 
are  most  familiar,  for  they  have  been  celebrated  in  poems 
that  everyone  reads.  The  story  is  that  the  robin,  pitying 
the  pain  of  the  cruel  crown  pressed  on  the  Saviour's  brow, 
plucked  away  the  sharpest  of  the  thorns;  and  some  say 
that  before  that  moment  the  bird  was  all  gray,  and  was 
bound  to  remain  so  until  it  had  done  something  worthy 
of  its  having  a  red  breast.  A  forgotten  writer,  whose 
lines  have  been  preserved  in  an  old  volume  of  Notes  and 
Queries,  tells  the  story  thus: 

Bearing  his  cross,  while  Christ  passed  by  forlorn, 
His   Godlike   forehead  by  the   mock   crown  torn, 
A  little  bird  took  from  that  crown  one  thorn, 
To  soothe  the  dear  Redeemer's  throbbing  head. 
That  bird  did  what  she  could ;  His  blood,  't  is  said, 
Down-dropping  dyed  her  tender  bosom  red. 
Since  then  no  wanton  boy  disturbs  her  nest; 
Weasel  nor  wildcat  will  her  young  molest — 
All  sacred  deem  that  bird  of  ruddy  breast. 

The  Spaniards,  however,  believe  swallows — also  "red- 
breasts" in  their  way — to  be  the  birds  that  pulled  the 
thorns  from  Christ's  crown — two  thousand  of  them ! 

Another  northern  tradition  is  that  the  robin  carries  in 
its  beak  daily  a  drop  of  water  to  those  shut  up  in  the 
"burning  lake,"  and  that  its  breast  is  red  because  scorched 
by  the  flames  of  Gehenna.  This  old  Swedish  legend  gave 
Whittier  the  inspiration  for  an  exquisite  poem: 

He  brings  cool  dew  in  his  little  bill, 
And  lets  it  fall  on  the  souls  of  sin; 

You  can  see  the  mark  on  his  red  breast  still 
Of  fires  that  scorch  as  he  drops  it  in. 


Still  another  theory  explains  that  its  reddish  front  re- 
mains tinctured  by  the  stain  it  received  in  trying  to 
staunch  the  blood  that  flowed  from  the  Redeemer's 
pierced  side. 

Almost  all  boys  in  Great  Britain  are,  or  used  to  be, 
collectors  of  birds'  eggs,  before  bird-protecting  societies 
and  public  enlightenment  restricted  their  destructive  en- 
thusiasm; but  the  nest  of  the  "ruddock"  (robin)  was 
rarely  disturbed  by  the  most  careless  of  them,  who,  if  un- 
deterred by  any  soft  sentiment,  were  frightened  by  the 
superstition  that  bad  luck  followed  any  such  vandalism. 
Many  maxims  to  this  effect  might  be  quoted,  one  of 
which,  a  proverb  in  Cornwall,  runs : 

He  that  hurts  robin  or  wren 
Will  never  prosper,  boy  or  men. 

In  Essex  they  repeat  to  children  a  little  ballad  like  this: 

The  robin  and  the  redbreast, 

The  robin  and  the  wren; 
If  ye  take  out  o'  their  nest 

Ye'U  never  thrive  again. 

The  robin  and  the  redbreast, 

The  martin  and  the  swallow; 
If  ye  touch  one  o'  their  eggs 

Bad  luck  will  follow. 

The  Scotch  say  it  a  little  differently: 

The  laverock  and  the  lintie, 

The  robin  and  the  wren; 
If  ye  harry  their  nests 

Ye'll  never  thrive  again. 

Let  me  digress  here  for  a  moment.  "Laverock"  is 
Scottish  for  lark,  meaning  the  skylark.    De  Gubernatis,54 


who  discourses  learnedly  on  the  mythical  connotations  of 
the  name  in  India  and  ancient  Greece,  finds  that  the  sig- 
nificance of  this  bird  in  popular  tales  is  due  to  its  crest, 
which  he  shows  to  be  an  indication  that  it  was  among  the 
birds  of  the  sun.  "The  crested  lark,"  he  says,  "is  the  same 
as  the  crested  sun,  the  sun  with  its  rays,"  and  he  con- 
tinues: "In  the  legend  of  St.  Christopher  I  see  an 
equivoque  between  the  word  Christos  and  the  word  cresta, 
crest,  and  either  way  I  see  the  sun  personified." 

Whatever  these  speculations  may  be  worth  the  old 
stories  attribute  to  the  lark  that  funereal  charity  which 
belongs  to  several  birds,  among  them  the  European  robin ; 
and  this  brings  us  back  to  the  main  track  and  to  the  pretty 
story  of  the  Babes  in  the  Woods.  Away  back  in  bad  old 
times  a  Norfolk  gentleman  left  legacies  to  two  infant 
children,  which  were  to  pass  to  their  uncle  if  the  babies 
died.  After  a  year  this  uncle  hired  ruffians  to  take  the 
children  into  a  forest  and  kill  them,  but  instead  the  men 
left  them  there  to  starve.  For  a  time  they  ate  black- 
berries, but  soon  became  exhausted,  lay  down,  and  went 
to  sleep,  and  expired. 

Their  little  corpse  the  robin-redbreast  found, 
And  strew'd  with  pious  bill  the  leaves  around.8 

More  modern  poets  have  made  many  allusions  to  this 
touching  tale,  which  Shakespeare  knew,  for  in  Cymbeline 
he  makes  Arviragus  say  over  Imogen — 

Thou  shalt  not  lack 
The  flowers  that's  like  thy  face,  pale  primrose;  nor 
The  azured  harebell.  .  .  .  The  ruddock  would 
With  charitable  bill  bring  thee  all  these. 


And  in  William  Collins's  Dirge  to  Cymbclinc  are  the 

lines : 

The  redbreast  oft  at  evening  hours 
Shall  kindly  lend  his  little  aid, 
With  heavy  moss,  and  gathered  flowers, 
To  deck  the  ground  where  thou  art  laid. 

The  conceit  is  far  more  ancient  than  Shakespeare  or 
Gay  or  even  than  Robert  Yarrington — who,  in  1601, 
wrote  a  ballad  on  it  concluding, 

No  buriall  this  pretty  pair  of  any  man  receives 

Till  Robin  Redbreast  piously  did  cover  them  with  leaves — 

for  Horace  relates  in  one  of  his  poems  how  he  as  a  child 
wandering  one  day  on  Mount  Vultur  fell  wearily  asleep, 
and  was  covered  by  protecting  doves  with  laurel  and 
myrtle  leaves. 

The  robin  is  always  remembered  at  Christmas  in 
the  rural  villages  and  farms  of  northern  Europe, 
for  it  is  not  migratory.  In  South  Germany  the  cus- 
tom is  to  put  grain  on  a  roof  for  the  redbreasts,  who 
come  trustfully  about  houses  at  that  season,  and  find 
welcome  shelter  in  barns  and  straw-stacks:  and  in 
Sweden  and  elsewhere  an  unthreshed  sheaf  of  wheat  is 
set  up  on  a  pole  for  their  winter  fare. 

It  will  have  been  noticed  that  in  the  ballads  quoted,  the 
wren  is  associated  with  the  robin  in  a  protective  way.  A 
whole  book  might  be  written  about  this  least  of  birds, 
which,  although  the  least,  is  called  "king"  in  every 
European  language.  We  are  told  that  a  wren  was  in  the 
stable  at  Bethlehem  when  Christ  was  born ;  and  an  Irish 
proverb  runs:  'The  robin  and  the  wren  are  God's  two 
holy  men."  How  surprising,  then,  to  read  of  a  custom 
called  Hunting  (or  in  some  places  Burying)  the  Wren, 


which  once  prevailed  in  southern  France,  in  Keltic  parts 
of  England,  in  Wales,  and  also  in  Ireland,  where  it  per- 
sisted until  abolished  by  the  British  Government  about  the 
middle  of  the  19th  century.  Accounts  of  the  practices, 
songs,  etc.,  connected  with  it  may  be  found  in  antiquarian 
histories,  for  example  the  following  from  Miles's  book  of 
Christmas  customs: 

In  the  Isle  of  Man  very  early  on  Christmas  morning,  when 
the  church-bells  had  rung  out  midnight,  servants  went  out  to 
hunt  the  wren.  They  killed  the  bird,  fastened  it  to  the  top  of 
a  long  pole;  and  carried  it  in  procession  to  every  house,  chant- 
ing these  words: 

We  hunted  the  wren  for  Robin  the  Bobbin, 
We  hunted  the  wren  for  Jack  of  the  Can, 

We  hunted  the  wren  for  Robin  the  Bobbin, 
We  hunted  the  wren  for  everyone. 

At  each  house  they  sought  to  collect  money.  At  last,  when  all 
had  been  visited,  they  laid  the  wren  on  a  bier,  carried  it  to 
the  church-yard,  and  buried  it  with  the  utmost  solemnity,  sing- 
ing Manx  dirges. 

It  is  evident  that  this  is  a  very  ancient  practice,  and 
embodies  in  its  utterly  degenerate  state  a  religious  idea 
or  symbolism,  the  meaning  of  which  has  been  forgotten. 
Why,  for  example,  should  the  feathers  of  the  murdered 
Manx  wrens  be  preserved,  one  by  one,  among  the  coast 
families,  as  a  talisman  preserving  the  possessor  from  ship- 
wreck, unless  some  religious  sanction  was  involved,  and 
this  may  be  connected  with  St.  Stephen,  the  first  Christian 
martyr,  who  was  stoned  to  death ;  for  this  savage  custom 
belonged  to  St.  Stephen's  Day,  December  26,  as  well  as  to 
Christmas,  or  locally  in  place  of  Christmas.  But  why 
the  wren,  rather  than  some  other  bird?    The  matter  is 


interesting  enough  to  justify  quoting  the  broad  account 
of  the  matter  furnished  by  Swann:47 

An  old  Irish  custom  on  St.  Stephen's  Day,  and  one  that 
has  not  quite  died  out,  was  the  "hunting  of  the  wren"  by  boys. 
When  captured  it  was  tied,  alive  but  maimed,  to  a  pole  (or, 
according  to  Vallancey — De  Reb.  Hib.,  IV,  13 — tied  by  the 
leg  in  the  center  of  two  hoops  placed  at  right  angles  with  one 
another)  and  paraded  around  the  neighborhood,  a  few  doggerel 
verses  being  repeated  at  each  house,  while  a  donation  was  re- 
quested, one  version  being; 

The  wran,  the  wran,  the  king  of  all  birds, 
St.  Stephen's  Day  was  caught  in  the  furze, 
Come,  give  us  a  bumper,  or  give  us  a  cake, 
Or  give  us  a  copper,  for  Charity's  sake. 

Yarrell  records  a  similar  practice  in  Kerry,  where  the  peasantry 
on  Christmas  Day  used  to  hunt  the  bird  with  two  sticks,  "one  to 
beat  the  bushes  the  other  to  fling  at  the  bird."  Bullock  also 
mentions  it  as  prevalent  in  the  Isle  of  Man,  both  on  Christmas 
Eve  and  St.  Stephen's  Day,  and  tells  us  it  was  founded  on  a 
tradition  of  a  beautiful  fairy  who  lured  the  male  inhabitants 
to  a  watery  grave  in  the  sea,  and  who  to  escape  subsequent  de- 
struction took  the  form  of  a  wren,  which  form  she  was  sup- 
posed to  be  doomed  by  a  spell  to  reassume  each  succeeding  New 
Year's  Day,  ultimately  perishing  by  human  hands.  ...  To  my 
own  knowledge  this  custom  of  a  "wren  hunt"  existed  in  Not- 
tinghamshire also  within  recent  times,  the  bird  being  hunted 
along  the  hedgerows  by  boys  armed  with  stones,  but  I  do  not 
recollect  that  anything  was  done  with  the  bird  when  killed  or 
maimed.  .  .  . 

In  connection  with  this  belief  [alluded  to  above]  in  the  king- 
ship over  other  birds,  a  Twelfth  Day  custom  of  parading  a 
caged  wren  in  Pembrokeshire,  with  the  lines  recited,  is  described 
in  Swainson's  Folklore  of  British  Birds,  O'Curry  has  recorded 
that  the  wren,  like  the  raven,  was  kept  domesticated  on  account 
of  the  auguries  derived  from  it,  which  were  employed  by  the 
Druids.  An  Irish  proverb  asserts  that  "The  fox  is  the  cunning- 
est  beast  in  the  world  barring  the  wren."  According  to  Dalyell 
the  wren  is  considered  an  unlucky  token  in  Scotland,  but  the 
robin  a  lucky  one. 


Explanations  of  this  revolting  yet  long  persistent  cus- 
tom have  been  many  and  various.  A  totemic  sort  of 
theory  is  that  the  bird  "was  once  regarded  as  sacred,  and 
the  Christmas  hunting  is  the  survival  of  an  annual  cus- 
tom of  slaying  the  divine  animal,  such  as  is  found  among 
primitive  peoples.  The  carrying  of  its  body  from  door 
to  door  is  apparently  intended  to  convey  to  each  house  a 
portion  of  its  virtues."  I  know  of  no  facts  in  history  to 
support  this  theory  as  applied  to  the  Keltic  race.  One 
authority  tells  us  that  the  "crime"  for  which  the  bird 
must  be  punished  so  ferociously  is  that  it  has  "a  drop  o' 
the  de'il's  blood  in  its  veins,"  but  so  has  the  magpie,  which 
is  not  persecuted. 

Lady  Wilde  60  assures  us  that  "the  wren  is  mortally 
hated  by  the  Irish  for  on  one  occasion,  when  the  Irish 
troops  were  approaching  to  attack  a  portion  of  Thomas 
Cromwell's  army  the  wrens  came  and  perched  on  the 
Irish  drums,  and  by  their  tapping  and  noise  aroused  the 
English  soldiers,  who  fell  on  the  Irish  troops  and  killed 
them  all."  For  this  tragic  incident  we  are  given  no  time 
or  place;  and  it  happens  that  the  same  report  was  made 
respecting  a  battle  between  Irish  and  Danish  invaders 
some  800  years  before  Cromwell's  campaigns  in  the 
Emerald  Isle  or  anywhere  else. 

The  real  clue  to  the  puzzle  is  contained  in  the  fact  that 
in  their  barbarous  hunt  for  wrens  the  men  and  boys  kept 
yelling  words  that  in  Cormac's  Glossary  (10th  century) 
are  explained  as  "draoi-en,"  Druid-bird.  We  know  that 
the  Druid  priests  were  accustomed  to  draw  auguries  from 
the  chirpings  of  the  wren — a  divination  to  which  the 
early  Christian  missionaries  objected  strenuously.  It  is 
probable  that  they  condemned  the  little  songster  as  a 
symbol  of  heathen  rites,  and  encouraged  their  converts  to 


kill  it  at  the  time  of  the  annual  Christian  feast  as  a  sign 
of  abnegation  of  Druidical  connections.  The  stoning  of 
the  birds  on  St.  Stephen's  Day  might  be  regarded  as  a 
vengeful  reminder  of  the  manner  of  that  martyr's 
murder  by  a  mob. 

One  more  bird-story  is  connected  with  Christianity  in 
general — that  alluded  to  in  Hamlet,  where  Ophelia  says: 
"Well,  God  'ield  you !  They  say  the  owl  was  a  baker's 
daughter!"  This  enigmatical  remark  probably  had  ref- 
erence to  the  story  formerly,  and  perhaps  still,  com- 
mon among  the  peasantry  in  the  English  Midlands,  of  a 
baker's  daughter  that  was  transformed  into  an  owl  by 
Jesus  as  a  punishment  for  reducing  to  a  very  small  size 
the  large  piece  of  dough  which  her  mother  had  agreed 
to  bake  for  him.  The  dough,  however,  swelled  in  the 
oven  to  enormous  proportions,  to  the  girl's  great  astonish- 
ment, and  she  gasped  out  "Heu,  heu,  heu!"  This  owl- 
like noise  suggested  her  transformation  into  that  bird. 
The  story  is  told  to  children  as  a  warning  lesson  against 
illiberal  treatment  of  the  poor.  It  is  evidently  alluded  to, 
also,  in  Beaumont  and  Fletcher's  play  The  Nice  Valour, 
where  the  Passionate  Lord  says,  after  speaking  of  a  nest 
of  owls,  "Happy  is  he  whose  window  opens  to  a  brown 
baker's  chimney!  he  shall  be  sure  there  to  hear  the  bird 
sometimes  after  twilight."  In  northern  Germany  they 
say  a  baker's  man  was  the  offender;  and  that  he  was 
changed  by  Jesus  into  a  cuckoo,  the  white  spots  in  whose 
wings  show  where  the  flour  was  sprinkled  on  the  man's 
dun  coat.  The  Norse  people  apply  the  same  moral  by 
means  of  their  common  woodpecker,  whose  pattern  of 
dress  is  indicated  in  the  legend  known  to  Norse  children 
as  the  Gertrud  story,  which  is  prettily  related  by  Miss 
Walker. 39     Brewer's  Handbook  notes  that  a  maid-ser- 


vant  of  the  Virgin  Mary,  who  had  purloined  one  of  her 
mistress's  dresses,  was  converted  into  a  lapwing  and  con- 
demned forever  to  cry  "Tyvit,  tyvit!"  (I  stole  it).  The 
source  of  the  anecdote  is  not  given,  nor  the  language  of 
the  one  who  interprets  it,  but  it  reminds  one  of  Tenny- 

With  a  lengthened  loud  halloo, 
Tuwhoo,  tuwhit,  tuwhit,  tuwhoo-o-o. 

The  Greeks,  according  to  Andrew  Lang,  had  a  similar 
legend  of  feminine  impiety,  by  which  they  mystically  ex- 
plained the  origin  of  owls  and  bats. 

The  prevalence  of  a  belief  in  such  transformations  as 
these  by  Jesus  is  very  widespread;  the  traditions  vary 
somewhat,  as  we  have  seen,  in  different  countries,  but  it  is 
evident  that  the  root  is  in  the  primitive  notion  that  such 
miracles  were  not  only  possible,  but  natural.  Rather 
more  remote  and  obscure  is  the  connection  of  birds  with 
certain  other  religious  feasts,  such  as  the  substitution  of 
turkey  for  boar's-head  as  the  central  dish  for  the  Christ- 
mas dinner  among  the  English  Dissenters,  attributed  to 
the  fact  that  turkeys  became  common  about  the  time  of 
the  Reformation,  and  acquired  a  meritorious  character 
on  that  account  among  those  who  wanted  to  continue  the 
Christmas  feast  without  the  taint  of  a  dish  partaking  of 
the  customs  of  the  hated  Papists.  Is  our  New  England 
custom  of  a  turkey  dinner  on  Thanksgiving  Day  trace- 
able to  this,  remembering  that  the  Puritans  paid  little  or 
no  heed  to  Christmas  ? 

For  centuries,  and  until  comparatively  recent  times, 
among  the  sports  and  jollifications  recalling  the  Roman 
carnival  (at  the  same  date)  that  marked  Shrove  Tuesday, 
the  last  day  before  Lent,  both  in  Britain  and  in  France, 


along  with  the  eating  of  unlimited  pancakes,  cock-fight- 
ing and  "throwing  at  cocks"  had  the  most  prominent 
place.  The  last-mentioned  sport  consisted  in  fastening 
live  cocks  in  a  certain  position,  and  letting  men  compete 
in  throwing  clubs  at  them,  the  man  who  killed  the  bird 
winning  it.  This  atrocious  form  of  amusement  did  not 
shock  the  populace  of  a  time  when  bear-baiting,  bull-bait- 
ing, and  the  pitting  of  dogs  against  each  other  or  against 
badgers  and  rats  were  popular;  yet  a  few  protested,  and 
even  in  the  17th  century  antiquaries  were  searching  for 
the  origin  of  the  custom.  Hearne  asserted  that  it  was  in 
memory  of  English  victories  over  the  French  (symbolized 
by  the  Gallic  coq)  in  the  time  of  Henry  V;  but  the  sport 
was  customary  in  France  itself  long  before  that  time. 
A  writer  quoted  by  Smith  61  records  that  "the  common 
account  of  it  is  that  the  crowing  of  a  cock  prevented  our 
Saxon  ancestors  from  massacring  their  conquerors,  the 
Danes,  on  the  morning  of  a  Shrove  Tuesday  while  asleep 
in  their  beds/'  which  recalls  one  of  the  explanations  of 
the  Irish  wren-hunting.  My  own  opinion  is  that  the 
custom  had  no  particular  significance,  but  was  just  a 
sportive  way  of  getting  without  much  cost  the  material 
for  a  good  dinner,  as  were  the  "turkey  shoots"  of  our 
western  frontier ;  and  that  Erasmus  was  fairly  right  when 
he  remarked  that  "the  English  eat  a  certain  cake  on 
Shrove  Tuesday,  on  which  they  immediately  run  mad  and 
kill  the  poor  cocks." 

Lent  closes  with  the  joyful  celebration  of  Easter,  an 
occasion  in  which  the  eggs  of  birds,  at  least,  have  a  per- 
sistent and  prominent  part,  and  doves  find  a  place  in 
several  Old  World  ceremonies  of  the  Church. 

In  the  matter  of  the  almost  universal  and  everywhere 
popular  custom  of  playing  with  colored  eggs  at  Easter, 


I  can  do  no  better  than  quote  The  Catholic  Encyclopedia, 
article  "Easter" : 

Because  the  use  of  eggs  was  forbidden  during  Lent  they  were 
brought  to  the  table  on  Easter  Day,  colored  red  to  symbolize 
the  Easter  joy.  This  custom  is  found  not  only  in  the  Latin  but 
also  in  the  Oriental  Churches.  The  symbolic  meaning  of  a 
new  creation  of  mankind  by  Jesus  risen  from  the  dead  was 
probably  an  invention  of  later  times.  The  custom  may  have  its 
origin  in  Paganism,  for  a  great  many  pagan  customs,  celebrat- 
ing the  return  of  spring,  gravitated  to  Easter.  The  tgg  is  the 
emblem  of  the  germinating  life  of  early  spring.  Easter  eggs, 
the  children  are  told,  come  from  Rome  with  the  bells  which  on 
Thursday  go  to  Rome  and  return  Saturday  morning.  The 
sponsors  in  some  countries  give  Easter  eggs  to  their  god-chil- 
dren. Colored  eggs  are  used  by  children  at  Easter  in  a  sort  of 
game  which  consists  in  testing  the  strength  of  the  shells.  Both 
colored  and  uncolored  eggs  are  used  in  some  parts  of  the  United 
States  in  this  game,  known  as  "egg-picking."  Another  practice 
is  the  "egg-rolling"  by  children  on  Easter  Monday  on  the  lawn 
of  the  White  House  in  Washington. 

A  quaint  feature  in  this  pagan  survival  in  a  Christian 
celebration  of  a  momentous  incident  and  idea  is  the  con- 
nection with  it  of  the  rabbit.  Wherever  colored  Easter 
eggs  are  displayed,  images  of  a  rabbit  are  likely  to  ac- 
company them.  Children  are  told  that  the  Easter  Rabbit 
lays  the  eggs,  for  which  reason  they  are,  in  some  coun- 
tries, hidden  in  a  nest  in  the  garden.  The  strangeness  of 
the  association  disappears  when  we  remember  that  the 
date  of  the  feast  is  determined  by  the  time  when  the 
moon  first  becomes  full  after  the  spring  equinox,  and  that 
the  rabbit,  which  has  from  time  immemorial  been  a  sym- 
bol of  fertility,  is  representative  of  the  moon-goddess, 
Luna,  which  was  worshipped  annually  at  a  date  coincid- 
ing with  the  Easter  festival.  Thus,  like  many  other 
pagan  rites  and  symbols  significant  of  reviving  nature,  it 


became  confused  with  the  Christian  celebration  of  the 

At  the  feast  of  the  Pentecost,  on  Whitsunday,  com- 
memmorating  the  descent  of  the  Holy  Ghost  upon  the 
Apostles,  doves  were  formerly  always  employed  in 
Europe  in  staging  the  solemnities. 

On  Whitsuntide,  white  pigeons  tame  in  strings  from  heaven  fly, 
And  one  that  framed  is  of  wood  still  hangeth  in  the  skie, 

as  we  are  told  by  Neogeorgus  (151 1-63),  speaking  of  the 
custom  in  Germany;  and  elsewhere  we  learn  that  in 
Spain  pigeons  with  cakes  tied  to  their  legs  were  let  loose 
in  churches,  where  representations  of  the  Holy  Ghost 
were  a  part  of  the  celebration.  This  last  fact  accounts  for 
the  use  of  the  dove — an  emblem  of  the  third  element  of 
the  God  head,  as  we  shall  see. 

To  a  similar  old  custom,  if  Marion  Crawford,  the 
learned  author  of  Salve  Venctia,  is  not  mistaken,  we  owe 
the  picturesque  fact  that  pigeons  are  a  feature  of  the  plaza 
of  St.  Mark  in  Venice — one  of  the  "sights"  of  that 
wonderful  city: 

The  Venetians  always  loved  processions,  and  it  is  to  one  of 
these  pageants  that  the  pigeons  of  St.  Mark's  owe  their  im- 
munity. As  early  as  the  end  of  the  fourteenth  century  it  was 
the  custom  to  make  a  great  procession  on  Palm  Sunday,  in  the 
neighborhood  of  St.  Mark's.  A  canon  of  the  Cathedral  de- 
posited great  baskets  on  the  high  altar  containing  the  artificial 
palms  prepared  for  the  Doge,  the  chief  magistrates,  and  the 
most  important  members  of  the  clergy.  .  .  .  According  to  the 
appointed  service  the  procession  began  immediately  after  the 
distribution  of  the  palms;  and  while  the  choir  chanted  the 
words  "Gloria,  latis  et  honor"  of  the  sacred  hymn,  a  great  number 
of  pigeons  were  sent  flying  from  different  parts  of  the  facade 
down  into  the  square,  having  little  screws  of  paper  fastened 
to  their  claws  to  prevent  them  from  flying  too  high.    The  people 


instantly  began  to  catch  the  birds,  and  a  great  many  were 
actually  taken;  but  now  and  then  one,  stronger  than  the  rest, 
succeeded  in  gaining  the  higher  parts  of  the  surrounding  build- 
ings, enthusiastically  cheered  by  the  crowd. 

Those  who  had  once  succeeded  in  making  their  escape  were 
regarded  as  sacred  forever  with  all  their  descendants.  The 
state  provided  them  with  food  from  its  granaries,  and  before 
long,  lest  by  mistake  any  free  pigeons  should  be  caught  on  the  next 
Palm  Sunday  the  Signory  next  decreed  that  other  birds  must  be 
used  on  the  occasion. 

F.  Hopkinson  Smith,  in  his  Gondola  Days,  gives  a  more 
secular  account  of  the  origin  of  the  regard  felt  by  the 
Venetians  for  these  "pets  of  the  State,"  whose  ancestor, 
the  genial  artist  writes,  brought  the  good  news  to  Venice 
of  the  capture  (in  1205)  of  Candia  by  Admiral  Enrico 


CERTAIN  kinds  of  birds  have  become  symbols  of 
popular  ideas,  or  even  significant  badges  of 
persons  and  events,  and  are  thus  more  or  less  con- 
ventionalized accessories  in  art,  by  reason  of  their  ap- 
pearance (form,  color),  or  their  habits,  or  their  connec- 
tion with  some  historic  incident  or  fabulous  tale.  In 
many  cases  this  symbolism  is  of  very  ancient  origin,  as 
is  most  particularly  true  of  the  eagle  and  the  dove.  The 
eagle  is  accounted  for  elsewhere  in  its  various  aspects  and 
relations:  but  the  dove,  by  which  is  meant  the  prehis- 
torically  domesticated  blue  rock-pigeon,  almost  deserves 
a  chapter  to  itself. 

To  trace  the  career  of  the  dove  in  religion,  customs,  and 
art  is,  indeed,  one  of  the  most  engaging  of  my  tasks,  and 
the  quest  discloses  a  curiously  double  and  diverse  symbo- 
lism running  almost  simultaneously  from  the  beginning 
of  history  to  the  present,  for  this  bird  serves  as  an  emblem 
of  purity  and  conjugal  affection  in  one  association,  and 
in  another  suggests  the  familiar  epithet  "soiled." 

The  story  of  this  bird  goes  back  to  the  misty  dawn  of 
civilization  and  religion  in  Mesopotamia,  the  Garden-of- 
Eden  land,  where  arose  the  dual  "nature-worship"  of  the 
combining  elements  heaven  and  earth,  male  and  female. 
The  fecund  soil,  yielding  its  fruits  to  the  fertilizing  sun- 
shine and  rain,  sent  by  the  sky-god,  became  personified  as 
Ishtar  (Ashtaroth),  and  to  her  was  assigned  the  amorous 



and  prolific  dove  as  a  type  of  the  family  concord  and 
productiveness  she  represented;  and  white  doves  were 
sold  to  worshippers  at  Babylon  to  be  offered  as  sacrifices 
in  her  temple.  Her  worship  was  spread  to  Asia  Minor 
and  the  shore  of  the  iEgean  by  Babylonian  and  Assyrian 
conquests,  and  she  became  known  to  the  Phrygians  as 
Cybele,  to  the  Syrians  as  Darketo,  and  to  the  Phoenicians 
as  Atagartis,  whom  the  Ionian  Greeks  called  Astarte. 

In  these  transformations  the  primitive  Ishtar  gradually 
fell  from  her  original  state  as  a  type  of  motherhood  to 
the  baser  one  of  physical  love-indulgence,  and  among 
her  votaries  were  troops  of  maidens  who  publicly  offered 
their  virginity  at  her  shrine,  as  a  form  of  sacrifice  and 

Some  of  the  Syrians  are  said  to  have  thought  of  their 
goddess  Darketo  as  "Semiramis,"  but  this  was  by  con- 
fusion with  her  fabled  daughter.  Whether  or  not  a  real 
woman  and  queen  of  that  name  ever  existed,  I  leave 
to  the  historians,  but  a  mythical  Semiramis  belongs  to  my 
story,  and  her  history  was  first  written  by  Ctesias,  an 
Asiatic-Greek  historian  of  the  fourth  century  B.C. 
Ctesias  says  that  near  Askalon  was  a  large  lake  beside 
which  Darketo  (otherwise  Atagartis)  had  a  habitation; 
she  is  represented  with  the  face  of  a  woman  and  the  body 
of  a  fish — perhaps  the  most  antique  conception  of  a  mer- 
maid. She  fell  in  love  with  a  fair  youth  and  a  girl-baby 
resulted.  Then,  in  shame,  Darketo  destroyed  her  lover, 
exposed  the  child  in  a  rocky  desert,  and  flung  herself 
into  the  lake.  The  babe,  nurtured  by  doves  on  milk  and 
cheese,  was  discovered  and  reared  by  a  herdsman,  who 
called  the  child  Semiramis — a  Syrian  word  for  "doves." 
At  the  close  of  her  life  this  mythical  Semiramis  changed 
herself  into  a  dove  and  flew  away  with  certain  other 


birds.  Hence,  in  Ctesias's  time,  divine  honors  were  paid 
in  the  East  to  doves;  and  a  dove  is  the  badge  of  Semi- 
ramis  in  Syrian  monumental  art.  Diodorus  Siculus  re- 
peats this  account  with  additional  details. 

The  sceptre  in  the  hand  of  the  revered  image  of 
Atagartis  in  her  great  temple  at  Hierapolis  bore  the 
golden  figure  of  a  dove  on  its  summit ;  and  in  Phoenicia, 
Cyprus,  Sardinia,  and  wherever  the  Phocians  and  other 
Levantine  traders  of  that  day  traded  and  colonized,  have 
been  found  small  terra-cotta  figures  of  this  goddess,  or  of 
one  of  her  priestesses,  always  with  a  dove. 

To  the  devotees  of  this  cult,  which  was  confined  to  the 
coastal  region,  and  in  which  the  Hebrews  and  other 
Semites  of  the  interior  desert-plains  took  no  part,  a  dove 
was  so  sacred  that  if  a  person  even  accidentally  touched 
one  he  was  "unclean"  throughout  the  day.  Hence  the 
birds  thronged  in  the  villages  and  houses  and  swarmed 
about  the  temple  yards,  where  they  were  fed  by  visitors, 
as  still  is  the  custom  in  the  Mohammedan  mosques  that 
have  taken  their  place.  This  was  noted  especially  at 
Hierapolis,  where,  according  to  Lucian,  one  of  the  vene- 
rated images  had  a  pigeon's  head. 

This  religious  doctrine,  and  more  particularly  the 
Phrygian  cult  of  Cybele,  was  undoubtedly  carried  to  the 
iEgean  islands  and  to  Greece,  while  civilization  was  still 
in  its  infancy  there,  for  the  "sea-born"  Aphrodite — an 
epithet  indicative  of  her  arrival  from  across  the  waters — - 
is  only  Astarte  transformed  in  Greek  thought,  which 
seems  to  explain  the  classic  story  that  Aphrodite  was  born 
from  an  egg,  with  a  dove  brooding  upon  it,  rolled  ashore 
by  a  fish. 

The  focus  of  religious  emotion  in  those  early  centuries 
of  Greece,  at  least  in  Attica,  was  probably  in  the  most 


ancient  of  oracles,  that  at  Dodona.  Tradition  ascribed  its 
origin  to  a  dove  that  spoke  with  a  human  voice;  and 
among  those  who  served  the  shrine  were  three  priestesses 
popularly  called  "Doves,"  whose  duty  it  was  to  announce 
oracles  requested  as  if  real  birds  uttered  them  from  the 
foliage  of  the  surrounding  oaks — divine  trees.  Con- 
nected with  the  cult  of  Zeus  at  Dodona  was  that  of 
Aphrodite,  then  regarded  as  the  goddess  of  exalted  love, 
not  of  the  sensual  passion  by  which  in  later  times  her  cult 
in  Rome,  as  Venus,  became  degraded.  It  was  natural, 
as  we  have  seen,  that  the  dove  should  be  associated  with 
this  pristine  Aphrodite,  and  equally  suitable  that  it  should 
be  adopted  subsequently  as  the  attendant  of  lascive 
Venus,  for  as  De  Kay  18  observes,  doves  are  forever  mak- 
ing love  and  caressing  each  other.  "Chaucer  speaks  of 
'the  wedded  turtil  with  her  herte  trewe'.  ...  So  the 
bird  is  by  its  nature  and  habits  fitted  to  be  the  attendant 
and  symbol  of  the  goddess  of  love — the  bird  that  draws 
her  flower-studded  chariot  through  the  air."  A  Persian 
poet  asks: 

Knowest  thou  why  round  his  neck  the  dove 

A  collar  wears? — it  is  to  tell 
He  is  the  faithful  slave  of  love, 

And  serves  all  those  who  serve  him  well.88 

An  interesting  memorandum  here  is  the  observation  by 
A.  B.  Cook,37  the  erudite  author  of  Zeus,  that  the  oracle 
in  the  oasis  Ammon  (Siwah),  which  Alexander  the 
Great  took  such  prodigious  trouble  to  visit  and  consult, 
was,  like  that  at  Dodona,  founded  by  a  dove.  "More- 
over," Mr.  Cook  remarks,  "Semiramis  is  said  to  have 
learned  her  destiny  from  Ammon,  and  to  have  fulfilled 
it  by  becoming  a  dove.  ...  In  short,  it  appears  that  the 


whole  apparatus  of  the  oracle  at  Dodona  .  .  .  was  to  be 
matched  in  the  oasis  of  Ammon.  Strabo  adds  that  both 
oracles  gave  their  responses  in  the  selfsame  manner,  not 
by  words  but  by  certain  tokens,  such  as  the  flight  of 

The  conception  of  Aphrodite  also  included  that  of 
spring,  ushered  in  by  the  early  return  of  this  migrant 
from  its  winter  resort  in  Africa  and  the  time  when  it 
cooed  for  a  mate — the  season  when  "a  livelier  iris  changes 
on  the  burnished  dove";  while  the  revival  of  nature  in 
spring  has  always  to  imaginative  souls  typified  the  Resur- 
rection as  taught  in  Christian  doctrine  and  exemplified  in 
some  of  the  customs  of  Easter,  which,  of  course,  is  only 
an  adaptation  of  the  far  more  ancient  festival  of  rejoicing 
at  the  return  of  the  sun — the  rebirth  of  the  year. 

Another  line  of  thought  apparently  of  Oriental  origin, 
but  prevalent  in  northern  Europe,  connected  this  dove 
with  the  Fates  and  with  death,  especially  death  by 
violence — a  phase  that  is  traced  in  wearisome  detail  back 
to  the  Rigvedas  and  other  misty  sources  by  the  myth- 
readers,  and  which  probably  comes  from  its  plaintive 
"cooing."  Sometimes,  however,  the  fateful  dove  brings 
good  tidings  and  succor  to  the  distressed,  as  in  the  story 
of  Queen  Radegund,  who  in  the  form  of  a  dove  once  de- 
livered sailors  from  shipwreck. 

This  is  an  appropriate  place,  perhaps,  to  repeat  the 
legend  related  by  the  Rhodian  Apollonius  in  his  poem 
Argonautica,  concerning  the  Symplegades — the  two 
islands  that  stand  on  opposite  sides  of  the  Bosphorus 
"mouth."  It  appears  that  these  islands  were  wont  in 
days  ancient  even  to  Apollonius  to  swing  together  and 
crush  any  living  thing  that  attempted  to  pass  between 
them  and  enter  the  Black  Sea.    Phineas,  who  lived  on  the 


shore  near  by  told  Jason,  who  had  arrived  there  on  his 
journey  in  search  of  the  Golden  Fleece,  and  who  wanted 
to  go  on  into  the  Euxine,  how  to  escape  the  fatal  grasp 
of  the  island-gates.  He  was  to  sail  or  row  the  Argo  as 
near  as  he  dared  to  the  entrance,  then  let  loose  a  dove. 
The  bird  would  fly  onward,  the  islands  would  rush  to- 
gether to  crush  it;  and  the  instant  they  had  swung  back 
Jason  must  drive  his  ship  on  between  them  before  they 
could  close  again.  This  plan,  so  clever  except  for  the 
poor  bird,  succeeded,  and  broke  the  magic  spell.  Living 
heroes  had  passed  safely  between  them,  and  ever  since 
then  the  malicious  Symplegades  have  remained  stable. 
This  story  has  been  scientifically  analyzed  by  the 
mythologists  in  various  ways,  but  none  has  deigned  to 
consider  why  a  dove  was  chosen,  rather  than  some  other 
bird,  as  the  martyr  of  the  occasion.  I  am  inclined  to  think 
it  was  because  among  sailors  of  those  days  the  dove  was 
believed  to  help  them ;  and  that,  in  turn,  was  owing  to  its 
association  with  the  "foam-born"  Aphrodite,  who  was 
worshipped  by  mariners,  especially  about  Cyprus,  as  god- 
dess of  the  sea. 

I  have  dwelt  somewhat  at  length  on  these  antique 
fables,  not  only  to  give  a  glimpse  of  the  nativity  of 
certain  far  more  modern,  or  even  existing,  ideas  and 
customs  connected  with  the  dove,  but  more  especially  to 
display  the  background  of  tradition  and  feeling  that 
affected  the  minds  of  people  toward  this  familiar  bird  at 
the  time  when  Christianity  began  to  manifest  itself  in 
Italy,  and  began  to  replace  by  a  Christian  symbolism  the 
previous  figurative  significance  of  the  dove.  The  highest 
place  given  it  in  early  Christian  thought  and  art  was  as 
a  representative  of  the  third  member  of  the  godhead — 
the  Holy  Ghost,  and  it  still  holds  this  significance,  as 



every  one  may  realize  who  recalls  the  hymn  beginning 
"Come  Holy  Spirit,  heavenly  Dove,"  which  will  be  sung 
in  perhaps  hundreds  of  churches  next  Sunday.  An  old 
and  natural  inference  followed,  that  the  devil  cannot  ever 
take  (by  magic)  the  form  of  this  celestial  messenger. 

According  to  an  apocryphal  gospel  the  Holy  Ghost  in 
the  semblance  of  a  dove,  designated  Joseph  as  the  spouse 
of  the  Virgin  Mary  by  alighting  on  his  head ;  and  in  the 
same  manner,  according  to  Eusebius,  Fabian  was  indi- 
cated as  divinely  appointed  to  be  Pope  in  the  third  cen- 
tury. It  is  said  also  that  at  the  Council  of  Nice  (A.  D.  325 ) 
the  creed  formulated  there  was  signed  by  the  Holy 
Spirit,  appearing  as  a  dove — a  legend  that  magnifies  the 
tremendous  importance  of  that  document. 

Again,  there  is  the  story  of  the  miraculous  dove  at  the 
consecration  of  Clovis  on  Christmas  Day,  496,  at  Rheims. 
When  Clovis  and  St.  Remi,  the  bishop,  reached  the 
baptistery  the  priest  bearing  the  holy  chrism  was  pre- 
vented by  the  density  of  the  crowd  from  reaching  the 
font.  Then  a  dove,  whiter  than  snow,  brought  a  vial 
(ampoule)  filled  with  chrism  sent  from  heaven;  and  the 
bishop  took  it,  and  with  this  miraculous  chrism  perfumed 
the  baptismal  water  for  the  Frankish  chief  by  whose  vic- 
tories over  Germanic  barbarians  France  was  founded. 

The  lives  of  medieval  saints  and  martyrs — or  at  any 
rate,  the  records  of  them — abound  in  such  incidents  of 
supernatural  recognition.  Several  devoted  women  on 
taking  the  vow  of  virginity  received  their  veils  from 
doves  hatched  in  no  earthly  nest;  bishops  were  more  than 
once  given  approval  of  public  acts,  especially  when  un- 
popular, by  similar  manifestations  of  divine  approbation, 
doves  alighting  on  their  heads.  "A  dove  is  the  special 
emblem  of  Gregory  the  Great  (A.  D.  590-604),  and  its 


figure  rests  on  his  right  shoulder  in  the  magnificent  statue 
of  this  pope  in  Rome." 

This  is  in  allusion,  according  to  The  Catholic  Encyclo- 
pedia, "to  the  well-known  story  recorded  by  Peter  the 
Deacon  {Vita,  xxviii),  who  tells  us  that  when  the  pope 
was  dictating  his  homilies  in  Ezechiel  a  veil  was  drawn 
between  his  secretary  and  himself.  As,  however,  the 
pope  remained  silent  for  long  periods  of  time,  the  servant 
made  a  hole  in  the  curtain  and,  looking  through,  beheld 
a  dove  seated  on  Gregory's  head  with  its  beak  between 
his  lips.  When  the  dove  withdrew  its  beak  the  holy 
pontiff  spoke  and  the  secretary  took  down  his  words ;  but 
when  he  became  silent  the  servant  again  applied  his  eyes 
to  the  hole  and  saw  that  the  dove  had  again  placed  its 
beak  between  his  lips."  Much  the  same  incident  belongs 
to  the  biography  of  another  early  pope;  and  apropos  to 
the  significance  of  this  bird  in  the  Romanist  method  of 
demonstrating  that  faith  to  the  populace,  Mackenzie  E. 
Walcott  contributed  the  following  bit  of  history  to  Notes 
and  Queries  in  1873: 

The  dove  was  regarded  as  the  symbol  of  the  holy  spirit 
which  came  in  the  eventide  of  days,  bringing  safety  and  peace 
to  the  ark  of  Christ  and  a  world  rescued  from  wreck,  and  to 
whom  Christians  should  be  conformed  in  innocency.  A  dove 
was  suspended  over  the  altar,  as  Amphilochius  says  of  S.  Basil 
that  he  broke  the  Holy  Bread  and  placed  one  third  part  in  the 
pendant  golden  dove  over  the  altar.  The  Council  of  Constanti- 
nople charged  a  heretic  with  robbing  the  gold  and  silver  doves 
that  hung  above  the  fonts  and  altars.  The  dove  was  also  the 
symbol  of  our  Blessed  Lord,  as  we  learn  from  Prudentius  and 
an  expression  of  Tertullian,  "the  Dove's  house,"  applied  to  a 
church,  probably  in  allusion  to  Coloss.  i,  20. 

The  dove  for  reservation  [that  is,  withholding  a  part  of  the 
eucharist]  whether  for  communion  of  infants  in  the  baptistery, 
or  of  sick  under  a  ciborium,  was  suspended  by  a  chain.  One  is 
preserved  in  the  church  of  S.  Nazarius  at  Milan,  and  a  solitary 


mention  of  another  is  contained  in  an  inventory  of  Salisbury. 
In  Italy  at  an  early  date,  the  dove  was  set  upon  a  tower  for 
reservation.  .  .  .  We  also  find  in  early  works  of  devotional  art 
the  dove  represented  as  flooding  a  cross  with  streams  of  living 
water.  There  is  a  famous  example  in  the  Lateran,  symbolical 
of  Holy  Baptism.  A  holy  lamb  and  dove  are  placed  on  the 
canopy  of  the  baptistery  at  Saragossa. 

It  seems  unlikely  that  Mohammed  could  have  heard  of 
these  pontifical  sources  or  methods  of  divine  inspiration, 
yet,  according  to  Brewer,34  Prideaux,  in  his  Life  of 
Mahomet,  relates  that  he  taught  a  dove  to  pick  seed 
placed  in  his  ear  as  it  perched  on  his  shoulder;  but  the 
wily  prophet  "gave  it  out  it  was  the  Holy  Ghost,  in  the 
form  of  a  dove,  come  to  impart  to  him  the  counsels  of 
God."  This  accounts  probably  (for  Shakespeare  may 
well  have  heard  the  tradition)  for  the  doubting  query  in 
Henry  V:   "Was  Mohammed  inspired  with  a  dove?" 

Whether  this  legend  is  credible  or  not,  it  is  certain 
that  Islam  has  preserved  the  ancient  Oriental  reverence 
for  this  bird,  which  now  flocks  in  great  numbers  around 
all  the  mosques;  and  the  Moslems  have  a  half-super- 
stitious feeling  that  any  bird  that  seeks  its  rest  and 
makes  its  nest  about  temples  and  holy  buildings  must  not 
be  disturbed — a  kindly  regard  in  which  swallows  share, 
at  least  in  the  Near  East,  where  the  Mohammedans  say 
that  the  swallow  must  be  a  very  holy  bird,  because  it 
makes  an  annual  pilgrimage  to  Mecca. 

John  Keane,14  an  Englishman  who  spent  a  long  time 
in  Arabia  about  forty  years  ago,  records  that  at  Mecca 
vast  flocks  of  pigeons  were  to  be  seen  in  the  public  space 
surrounding  the  kaaba.  By  repeated  observations  he  esti- 
mated that  between  5000  and  6000  pigeons  assembled 
there  daily,  all  so  tame  that  they  would  alight  on  men's 


heads  and  shoulders.  They  are  still  held  as  almost  sacred, 
are  never  killed,  and  nest  in  nearly  every  building  in 
niches  left  for  that  purpose  in  the  walls  of  the  rooms. 
Pilgrims  purchase  baskets  of  grain  to  give  to  the  pigeons 
as  a  pious  act,  and  each  benefactor  "becomes  the  vortex 
of  a  revolving  storm  of  pigeons."  In  some  remote  places, 
indeed,  these  temple-pets  become  themselves  almost  ob- 
jects of  worship.  For  example,  on  the  direct  road  be- 
tween Yarkand  and  Khotan,  Chinese  Turkestan,  stands 
the  locally  celebrated  pigeon-shrine  (Kaptar  Mazzar), 
where  all  good  Moslems  must  dismount  and  reverently 
approach  the  sacred  spot.  "Legend  has  it  that  Imam 
Shakir  Padshah,  trying  to  convert  the  Buddhist  inhabi- 
tants of  the  country  to  Islam  by  the  drastic  agency  of 
the  sword,  fell  here  in  battle  against  the  army  of  Khotan, 
and  was  buried  in  the  little  cemetery.  It  is  affirmed  that 
two  doves  flew  forth  from  the  heart  of  the  dead  saint, 
and  became  the  ancestors  of  the  swarms  of  pigeons  we 
saw  .  .  .  sated  with  the  offerings  of  the  Faithful,  and 
extremely  fat.  .  .  .  We  were  told  that  if  a  hawk  were 
to  venture  to  attack  them  it  would  fall  down  dead." 

A  pretty  story  is  related  by  E.  Dinet,  a  French  artist, 
in  his  book  of  sketches  in  Algeria.  "Doves,  which  the 
Arabs  name  imams,  because,"  he  was  told,  "like  the  imam 
in  the  mosques,  they  call  the  faithful  to  prayer,  and  be- 
cause, like  him,  they  do  not  cease  to  prostrate  themselves 
by  inclining  their  necks  in  devotions  to  the  Creator." 

Newspapers  of  the  year  192 1  contained  an  account  of 
how  two  European  boys  ignorantly  provoked  a  riot  in 
Bombay  by  killing  a  couple  of  pigeons  in  the  street.  The 
Mohammedans  were  horrified  and  the  police  had  difficulty 
in  supressing  an  extensive  disturbance;  the  stock  ex- 
change and  other  general  markets  were  closed,  and  a 


wide-spread  strike  of  workmen  in  India  was  threatened,  as 
an  evidence  of  the  deep  feeling  aroused  by  the  boys' 
sacrilegious  act.  It  was  evidence  also  of  the  panic-force 
of  superstition  under  an  appropriate  stimulus,  and  a  good 
illustration  of  Professor  George  Santayana's  definition 
of  superstition  as  "reverence  for  what  hurts."  In  the 
same  year  it  was  reported  by  telegraph  from  Brownsville, 
Texas,  that  a  snow-white  pigeon  flew  into  Sacred  Heart 
Church  there  on  the  morning  of  November  11,  during  a 
service  celebrating  Armistice  Day,  and  perched  over  a 
memorial  window,  where  it  remained  throughout  the 
service.  Had  it  been  a  sparrow  or  woodpecker  no  one 
would  have  thought  of  recording  the  incident. 

Men  in  the  Middle  Ages  had  perfect  faith  in  prodigies 
such  as  those  connected  with  the  holy  ampoule  of  St. 
Remi  and  the  subsequent  miracles  in  which  it  was  so 
efficacious ;  and  everyone  understood  their  meaning.  This 
continued  as  long  as  the  Church  held  sway  over  hearts 
and  minds  of  the  populace.  Nobody,  probably,  had  the 
disposition,  not  to  say  the  hardihood,  to  deny  the  story — 
you  may  read  it  in  Froissart — that  at  the  battle  of  Roose- 
beek  (or  Rosebeque),  which  put  an  end  to  the  power  of 
Philip  van  Artevelde  in  1382,  a  white  dove  was  seen  to 
circle  about  and  alight  on  the  French  oriflame,  which 
then  swept  on  to  victory. 

Readers  of  Malory's  Morte  D' Arthur  will  recall  that 
as  on  its  appearance  the  Holy  Grail  passes  before  Lance- 
lot's eyes  in  the  castle  of  Pelleas,  a  dove,  entering  at  the 
window  and  carrying  a  small  golden  censer  in  its  beak, 
impressed  the  awe-struck  knights  of  the  Table  Round  as 
a  lovely  token  of  the  purity  and  worship  to  which  the 
castle  was  devoted.  Nothing  could  be  more  natural  in 
medieval  romance  than  this  incident — a  miracle  com- 


memorated  in  the  opera  Parsifal.  The  Venetians  still 
assert  that  the  pigeons  so  familiar  and  petted  in  the  piazza 
of  St.  Mark  fly  three  times  daily  around  the  city  in  honor 
of  the  Trinity. 

A  later  example:  in  the  first  voyage  of  Hernando 
Cortez  to  America  water  and  food  were  almost  exhausted, 
and  everybody  in  the  vessel  was  discouraged  and 
mutinous,  when  "came  a  Dove  flying  to  the  Shippe,  being 
Good  Friday  at  Sunsett;  and  sat  him  on  the  Shippe-top; 
whereat  they  were  all  comforted,  and  tooke  it  for  a 
miracle  and  good  token  .  .  .  and  all  gave  heartie  thanks 
to  God,  directing  their  course  the  way  the  Dove  flew." 
Any  sort  of  bird  would  have  been  welcome  as  an  indica- 
tion of  nearness  of  land,  but  a  dove  meant  to  them  a 
heavenly  pilot.  No  wonder  that  they  were  comforted! 
And  when  they  had  landed  they  found  in  abundance  a 
flower  (the  orchid  Peristeria  data)  which  they  at  once 
named  La  Flor  del  Espiritu  Santu — Flower  of  the  Holy 
Ghost.  Why?  Because  in  its  center  the  consolidated 
pistil  and  stamens  form  an  unmistakable  image  of  a  dove. 

The  immediate  source  of  this  symbolism  is  evidently 
the  account  in  the  gospels  of  the  divine  sanction  witnessed 
at  the  baptism  of  Jesus.  Matthew  (iii,  16)  records :  "Lo, 
the  heavens  were  opened  unto  him,  and  he  saw  the  Spirit 
of  God  descending  like  a  dove,  and  lighting  upon  him" ; 
and  St.  Luke  strengthens  the  realism  by  writing  that 
"the  Holy  Ghost  descended  in  a  bodily  shape  like  a  dove." 
Hence  this  bird  is  constantly  associated  with  Christ  and 
with  the  Cross  by  artists  and  decorative  designers;  and 
it  is  no  wonder  that  in  so  strictly  Catholic  countries  as 
Italy  it  is  considered  sacrilegious  by  many  of  the  people 
to  eat  the  flesh  of  pigeons. 

"In  the  fifth  century,"  as  Mrs.  Jenner  tells  us  in  her 


book  on  Christian  symbolism,63  the  dove  is  shown  de- 
scending on  the  Blessed  Virgin  at  the  Annunciation. 
After  this  date  the  Holy  Dove  is  commonly  shown  in 
depicting  both  these  subjects,  as  well  as  the  sacrament  of 
baptism.  It  appears  frequently  also  over  the  pictures  of 
the  Virgin  and  Child,  and  in  pictures  of  the  Creation, 
where  "the  spirit  of  God  moved  on  the  face  of  the 
waters.  .  .  .  The  Holy  Spirit  as  a  dove  bestowing  the 
Gift  of  Tongues  is  shown  with  flames  proceeding  from 

The  prophet  Elisha  is  represented  in  a  window  of 
Lincoln  College,  England,  with  a  two-headed  dove  on  his 
shoulder — evidently  an  allusion  to  his  petition  to  Elijah 
(77  Kings,  ii,  9) :  "I  pray  thee,  let  a  double  portion  of 
thy  spirit  be  upon  me." 

But  this  venerated  bird  has  many  other  meanings  in 
Christian  art  and  parable,  sometimes  so  comprehensive 
as  to  include  the  Church,  or  Pope,  or  Christians  generally 
in  the  sense  that  they  are  distinguished  from  Pagans  by 
their  gentleness  and  innocence. 

Reference  has  been  made  to  the  funereal  quality  of  this 
bird,  which  appears  on  medieval  funerary  monuments  as 
testimony  of  death  in  Christian  faith.  In  the  miracle- 
play  depicting  the  career  and  martyrdom  of  St.  Eulalia 
of  Barcelona,  which  is  still  enacted  annually  in  the  Cata- 
lan village-churches  of  the  eastern  Pyrenees,  it  is  repre- 
sented that  the  tortured  soul  of  the  Christian  maiden 
escapes  to  heaven  in  the  form  of  a  dove.  Even  to-day 
one  sees  these  birds,  or  a  pair  of  them,  carved  on  tomb- 
stones, or  their  stuffed  skins  employed  as  a  part  of  funeral 
wreaths  and  accessories,  and  certain  superstitions  have 
grown  out  of  this  practice,  as  is  related  elsewhere. 

The  white  domestic  dove  has  always  been  a  figure  of 


purity  by  reason,  no  doubt,  of  its  whiteness,  as  of  un- 
stained snow  or  light — the  same  feeling  that  prescribes 
white  raiment  in  such  church  services  as  the  confirmation 
of  girls,  and  white  veils  and  flowers  for  brides.  This, 
probably,  was  the  reason,  too,  why  white  doves,  and  even 
geese,  were  acceptable  for  sacrifice  in  the  Jewish  temple 
of  old  from  those  who  could  not  afford  to  give  a  lamb. 
Mary,  mother  of  Jesus,  offered  doves  at  her  sacrificial 
purification ;  and  that  these  birds  were  commonly  used  for 
that  purpose  is  evident  from  the  fact  that  a  great  trade  in 
them  had  grown  up  in  and  around  the  temple  in 
Jerusalem,  profaning  it,  so  that  later  Jesus  drove  away 
from  its  hallowed  precincts  "them  that  sold  doves."  A 
tradition  says  that  Moses,  a  good  economist,  decreed  as  a 
proper  sacrifice-offering  either  a  turtle-dove  or  two  young 
pigeons,  because  doves  were  good  to  eat  at  any  time, 
whereas  pigeons  (the  larger  and  wilder  stock)  were  tough 
and  unpalatable  except  as  squabs;  and  it  is  to  be  re- 
membered that  the  edible  flesh  of  sacrificed  animals  was 
afterward  eaten,  and  for  that  end  was  divided  equally  be- 
tween the  offerer  and  the  priests. 

A  more  widespread,  popular  and  persistent  notion 
makes  the  dove  the  symbol  of  peace,  usually  depicted  with 
a  spray  of  olive  in  its  beak.  How  the  olive  came  to  have 
this  character  has  been  thoroughly  discussed  by  the  Rev. 
H.  Friend.11  It  appears  to  be  largely  an  accidental 
acquisition,  even  if  one  believes  that  the  idea  is  derived 
from  the  olive-leaf  brought  back  by  the  dove  that  Noah 
sent  forth  from  the  ark.  In  old  times  a  tree-branch  of 
any  sort  served  as  does  a  modern  flag  of  truce  between 
warring  factions;  or  was  held  aloft  as  a  sign  of  friendly 
intentions   when   strangers   approached   others   without 


hostile  purpose.  The  tradition  of  the  Deluge  suggested, 
and  usage  has  strengthened,  the  supposition  that  the  olive 
was  the  proper  sort  of  branch  to  show  (without  danger 
of  misunderstanding),  as  was  the  practice  of  Roman 
heralds,  and  the  fact  that  this  bird  was  associated  with 
the  olive  in  Biblical  legend  has  made  the  dove  the  "bird 
of  peace.,,  The  olive-tree  was  given  to  Athens  and  the 
world  by  Pallas  Athene,  patron  of  peace  and  plenty. 

As  a  matter  of  ornithology  the  choice  of  this  bird  as  a 
representative  of  peace  is  an  unfortunate  one,  for  pigeons 
are  unusually  quarrelsome  among  themselves;  it  is 
noticeable,  however,  that  in  all  these  relations  the  sym- 
bolic dove  is  a  white  one — not  the  gray  ring-dove.  In 
Japan,  on  the  contrary  doves  are  considered  messengers 
of  war,  which  perhaps  originated  in  the  legend  of  an 
escape  from  his  enemies  by  the  mythical  hero  Yoritomo. 
He  was  hiding  in  a  hollow  tree,  and  when  his  pursuers 
saw  two  doves  fly  out  of  the  hollow  they  concluded  no 
one  could  be  there  and  passed  on.  Yoritomo  afterward 
became  shogun,  and  he  erected  shrines  to  the  god  of  war, 
whose  birds  are  doves,  become  so,  perhaps,  by  reason  of 
their  pugnacity. 

Next  to  the  dove  (or  perhaps  the  eagle)  the  peacock 
appears  to  have  most  importance  among  birds  as  a 
symbol.  To  us  it  stands  as  a  vainglorious  and  foppish 
personality  of  very  little  use  in  a  practical  world;  and 
India  has  a  proverb  that  the  crow  that  puts  on  peacock's 
feathers  finds  that  they  fall  out  and  that  he  has  left  only 
the  harsh  voice.  De  Gubernatis  54  quotes  another  Hindoo 
saying,  that  this  bird  has  angel's  feathers,  a  devil's  voice 
and  a  thief's  walk.  Other  stories  tell  of  the  proud  bird's 
chagrin  when  he  looks  down  and  perceives  how  black  and 


glossy  are  his  feet — as  old  Robert  Chester  sang  it  in 
Love's  Martyr: 

The  proud  sun-loving  peacocke  with  his  feathers, 

Walkes  all  alone,  thinking  himself  a  king, 

And  with  his  voyce  prognosticates  all  weathers, 

Although  God  knows  but  badly  doth  he  sing; 

But  when  he  lookes  downe  to  his  base  blacke  feete, 

He  droops,  and  is  asham'd  of  things  unmeete. 

A  still  earlier  poet  had  sung  of  this  secret  chagrin 
attributed  to  the  conceited  fowl,  and  had  accounted  for 
it  by  a  popular  Moslem  tradition,  illustrated  to  this  day 
by  the  fact  that  the  Devil-worshipping  sect  of  Yezd,  in 
northern  Mesopotamia,  reverence  the  peacock  as  the  ac- 
complice of  Eblis,  which  is  Satan;  my  reference  is  to  the 
Persian  Azz'  Eddin  Elmocadessi,88  who  wrote — 

The  peacock  wedded  to  the  world, 

Of  all  her  gorgeous  plumage  vain, 
With  glowing  banners  wide  unfurled, 

Sweeps  slowly  by  in  proud  disdain; 
But  in  her  heart  a  torment  lies, 
That  dims  the  lustre  of  those  eyes; 
She  turns  away  her  glance — but  no, 
Her  hideous  feet  appear  below ! 
And  fatal  echoes,  deep  and  loud, 

Her  secret  mind's  dark  caverns  stir; 
She  knows,  though  beautiful  and  proud, 

That  Paradise  is  not  for  her. 
For,  when  in  Eden's  blissful  spot 

Lost  Eblis  tempted  man,  she  dared 
To  join  the  treach'rous  angel's  plot 

And  thus  his  crime  and  sentence  shared. 
Her  frightful  claws  remind  her  well 
Of  how  she  sinned  and  how  she  fell. 

The  native  home  of  this  resplendent  pheasant  is  India 
and  Malaya,  and  the  brilliance  of  its  plumage  (in  the 


male  sex,  to  which  all  that  follows  refers),  the  radiating, 
rustling  quills  and  prismatic  eye-spots  of  the  magnificent 
tail-coverts,  together  with  other  features  of  the  bird's  life, 
led  to  its  association  in  Eastern  mythology  with  the  sun 
and  sometimes  with  the  rainbow.  Taken  westward  by 
adventurous  traders,  the  glittering  dress  of  the  cock 
entered  into  the  popular  conception  of  the  phenix,  and 
thus  the  peacock  came  to  be  accepted  in  pagan  Greece 
and  Italy  as  a  substitute  for  that  gorgeous  fiction,  as  no 
real  phenix  was  obtainable.  Naturally  the  new  bird  was 
assigned,  superseding  her  homely  goose,  to  Hera  (Juno) 
the  consort  of  Zeus  (Jupiter)  whose  cognizance  was 
the  eagle — the  other  component  of  the  hybrid  phenix; 
and,  as  Juno  was  queen  of  heaven,  the  bird  was 
used  by  prechristian  artists  as  the  symbol  of  the 
apotheosis  of  an  empress  as  was  the  eagle  that  of  an 

These  ideas  were  of  Eastern  origin,  and  came  with  the 
bird  when  it  was  introduced  into  the  western  world 
from  its  home  in  southern  Asia,  where  its  harsh  cry  of 
warning  to  the  jungle  whenever  it  espied  a  tiger,  leopard 
or  big  snake,  was  also  a  welcome  signal  to  the  people 
of  the  woodland  villages  to  be  on  their  guard.  "For  this 
reason,  as  well  as  its  habit  of  foretelling  rain  by  its  danc- 
ing and  cries  of  delight,  it  has  from  time  immemorial 
been  held  in  the  East  as  a  bird  of  magic,  or  the  embodi- 
ment of  some  god  of  the  forest  whose  beneficence  is  well 
worth  supplication,  and  whose  resentment  might  bring  dis- 
aster. Hence  it  was  ever  protected,  not  by  law,  but 
from  a  feeling  of  veneration." 

The  words  quoted  are  from  one  of  a  series  of  articles 
on  Oriental  Art  by  Mrs.  Katherine  M.  Ball,68  printed  in 
Japan  (July,  1922),  from  which  the  reader  may  gather 


further  facts  as  to  the  place  the  bird  holds  in  the  religious 
and  artistic  thought  of  the  Orient.     In  China,  for  ex- 
ample, in  the  time  of  the  Tang  dynasty  (8th  century, 
A.   D.),    "many  thousand   districts,"   according   to  the 
chronicles,    "paid    tribute    in    peacocks,    because    their 
feathers  were  required  by  the  state,  not  only  as  decora- 
tions for  the  imperial  processions,  but  for  the  designa- 
tion of  official  rank;  for  the  peacock  feather  was  be- 
stowed upon  officials,  both  military  and  civil,  as  a  reward 
for  faithful  service."     Such  feathers  differed  according 
to  the  honor  to  be  dispensed,  hence  there  are  the  "flower" 
feather,  the  "green"  feather,  and  the  "one-eyed,"  "two- 
eyed"    and    "three-eyed,"    all    of    which    were    greatly 
treasured  and  worn  on  special  occasions.    This  use  of  the 
feather  is  accounted  for  by  Mrs.  Ball  in  this  way:    "In 
the  Chin  dynasty  a  defeated  general  took  refuge  in  a 
forest  where  there  were  many  peacocks.    When  the  pur- 
suing forces  arrived,  and  found  the  fowl  so  quiet  and 
undisturbed,  they  concluded  that  no  one  could  possibly 
have  come  that  way,  and  forthwith  abandoned  the  search. 
The  general — who  later  became  known  as  the  ancestor  of 
five  kings — was  thus  able  to  escape,  and  so  grateful  was 
he  that  later  when  he  came  into  power  he  instituted  the 
custom  of  conferring  a  peacock  feather  as  an  honor  for 
the  achievement  of  bravery  in  battle."    This  incident  re- 
minds us  of  the  escape  of  Yoritomo  of  Japan,  and  of  the 
Tartar  general  who  avoided  capture  under  the  protection 
of  a  quiet  owl,  as  related  elsewhere. 

The  Japanese  are  fond  of  the  peacock  as  a  motive  in 
their  exquisite  art,  and  frequently  combine  it  with  the 
peony,  as  do  the  Chinese,  who  consider  that. the  only 
flower  worthy  of  such  association.  Another  subject  fre- 
quently seen  illustrated  is  a  representation  of  the  Buddhist 


healing  deity  Kujako  Myowo,  the  Japanese  analogue  of 
the  Hindoo  deification  of  this  fowl. 

Whether  the  peacock  was  brought  to  the  Mediterranean 
region  from  India  or  Persia  or  from  Phoenicia  is  un- 
known. It  is  commonly  said  that  Alexander  the  Great 
was  its  introducer ;  but  wherever  it  went  its  symbolic  sig- 
nificance accompanied  it,  otherwise  the  peoples  of 
Greece  and  Italy  would  hardly  have  given  it  the  name  of 
their  own  goddess  of  light  and  day,  or  have  held  it  to  be 
a  visible  sign  of  the  rainbow  itself.  In  combination  with 
the  eagle  it  was  originally  an  attribute  of  Pan,  who  later 
was  obliged  to  yield  it  to  Juno,  the  goddess  of  Heaven, 
thus  making  it  the  star-bird,  the  symbol  of  the  starry 
firmament,  on  account  of  the  "eyes"  in  its  tail-feathers, 
which  were  regarded  as  the  very  stars  themselves.  Out 
of  this  arose  many  myths,  chief  among  which  is  that  of 
the  hundred-eyed  Argus — how  Argus  was  set  by  Juno 
to  watch  Io,  of  whom  she  had  been  jealous,  but  was  killed 
by  Mercury  in  the  interest  of  the  queen's  unrepentant 
husband ;  and  how  Juno  makes  the  best  of  a  bad  situation : 

Thus  Argus  lies  in  pieces  cold  and  pale; 
And  all  his  hundred  eyes  with  all  their  light 
Are  closed  at  once  in  one  perpetual  night. 
These  Juno  takes,  that  they  no  more  shall  fail, 
And  spreads  them  on  her  peacock's  gaudy  tail.69 

But  the  Christians,  in  their  revolt  against  everything 
Pagan,  regarded  this  bird,  which  like  so  many  other  facts 
and  fancies  of  the  ancient  regime  they  could  not  destroy, 
from  a  new  and  different  angle.  They  observed  that  al- 
though it  lost  (by  molting)  its  splendid  raiment  yet  as 
often  it  was  re-acquired — manifestly  a  similitude  of  the 
resurrection  of  the  devoted  soul  into  renewed  glories 


after  death.  The  fact  was  true,  of  course  of  all  birds, 
but  it  was  most  noticeable  in  this  gaudy  stranger  from  the 
land  of  sunrise;  and,  in  addition,  a  belief  was  borrowed 
from  the  phenix  that  its  flesh  was  incorruptible.  Thus 
the  peacock  became  in  early  Christian  art  a  symbol  of  im- 

In  the  general  mental  lethargy  that  marked  the  Middle 
Ages  this  elevated  idealism  was  degraded ;  yet  that  some- 
what of  the  bird's  traditional  sacredness  remained  is 
shown  by  the  fact  that  among  the  customs  of  chivalry, 
knights  and  squires  took  oath  on  the  king's  peacock, 
which,  stuffed  and  brought  ceremoniously  to  the  table, 
was  a  feature  in  various  solemnities.  Critics  trace  to 
this  the  Shakespearian  oath  "By  cock  and  pye!" — to  my 
mind  a  dubious  gloss.  "It  is  said  of  Pythagoras,"  De 
Gubernatis  54  notes,  "that  he  believed  himself  to  have  once 
been  a  peacock,  that  the  peacock's  soul  entered  into 
Euphorbus,  a  Homeric  Trojan  hero,  that  of  Euphorbus 
into  Homer,  and  that  of  Homer  into  him."  Those  who 
are  familiar  with  classic  literature  may  be  able  to  con- 
tinue the  history  of  this  literary  metempsychosis  down  to 
the  present.  Hehn  and  Stallybrass  elaborate  their  history 
of  the  peacock  in  custom  and  myth  in  exhaustive  detail  in 
their  Wanderings  of  Plants  and  Animals. 

A  quaint  relic  of  ancient  ideas  survives  in  the  prevalent 
notion  that  the  beautiful  tail-plumes  of  the  peacock  are 
unlucky  or  worse,  for  it  is  widely  feared  that  illness  and 
death  speedily  follow  putting  them  into  a  house,  especially 
as  affecting  the  health  of  youngsters.  It  occurred  to  me 
that  this  superstition,  as  foolish  as  it  is  baleful,  was  prob- 
ably connected  with  the  far-reaching  dread  of  the  Evil 
Eye,  having  in  mind  the  gleaming  ocellse  that  decorate 
these    splendid     feathers,     but    Elworthy's    exhaustive 


treatise06  on  that  dreaded  visitation  (especially  feared 
among  Italians)  alludes  to  the  matter  only  casually,  and 
expresses  the  opinion  that  the  alleged  ill-luck  is  a  relic  of 
the  ancient  cult  of  Juno — a  lingering  fear  that  in  some 
way  her  anger  may  be  excited  by  the  plucking  of  the 
feathers  of  her  favorite  bird ;  while  the  idea  that  so  long 
as  these  plumes  are  kept  in  the  house  no  suitors  will  come 
for  the  daughters  points  to  the  old  attribute  of  spite  or 
jealousy  in  love  or  matrimonial  matters  with  which  Juno 
was  always  accredited  in  Pagan  times. 

It  occurs  to  me,  also,  that  the  fact  that  the  revered 
peacock  throws  away  (moulds)  its  quills  every  year  sug- 
gests to  a  superstitious  imagination  that  they  may  be 
distasteful  to  the  bird,  and  hence  something  to  be  avoided 
by  careful  devotees.  Nevertheless,  on  Easter  Day  in 
Rome,  when  the  pope  is  borne  in  magnificent  state  into 
St.  Peter's,  he  waves  over  the  heads  of  the  reverent  wor- 
shippers assembled  there  a  fan  (flabbellum)  of  ostrich 
feathers  on  which  have  been  sewn  the  eye-spots  from 
peacock  plumes,  the  latter,  we  are  told,  signifying  the 
all-seeing  vigilance  of  the  Church — against  foolishness  as 
well  as  downright  evil,  let  us  hope ! 

No  bird  is  more  often  employed  symbolically  in  Chris- 
tian art  than  the  pelican,  which,  like  the  peacock  became  a 
representative  of  salvation  through  the  self-sacrifice  of 
Christ.  How  this  developed  from  the  supposed  habit  of 
resuscitating  her  nestlings  by  feeding  them  blood  from 
her  bosom,  after  they  had  been  murdered  by  the  father,  is 
explained  in  another  chapter.  It  is  said  that  the  story 
originated  in  Egypt,  with  reference  to  a  vulture.  St. 
Jerome,  however,  first  gave  it  a  theological  application, 
teaching  that  similarly  those  dead  in  sin  were  made  alive 
again   by   the   blood   of   the   Christ.      The    form — still 



familiar  in  heraldry — is  that  of  a  bird  sitting  by  its  nest 
with  its  beak  depressed  and  tearing  at  its  breast,  repre- 
senting "the  pelican  in  its  piety,"  the  last  word  here  hav- 
ing its  original  meaning  of  parental  care.  It  also  became 
a  pictured  symbol  of  the  Christ  and  of  the  Passion,  "and 
more  particularly  of  the  Eucharist,  wherein  Christians 
are  nourished  by  Christ  himself."  Thomas  Aquinas 
(13th  century)  is  the  author  of  a  well-known  verse  of 
this  import: 

Pelican  of  Piety,  Jesus,  Lord  and  God, 

Cleanse  thou  me,  unclean,  in  thy  most  precious  blood, 

But  a  single  drop  of  which  doth  save  and  free 

All  the  universe  from  its  iniquity. 

A  similar  stanza  in  John  Skelton's  Armoury  of  Birds 
reads : 

Then  sayd  the  Pellycane, 
When  my  byrdts  be  slayne, 
With  my  bloude  I  them  reuyue  [revive], 
Scrypture  doth  record 
The  same  dyd  our  Lord, 
And  rose  from  deth  to  lyue.  [life] 

The  eagle  is  to  be  regarded  rather  as  an  emblem  than 
as  a  symbol  yet  it  has  a  significance  of  this  sort,  for  by 
the  early  Christians  it  was  considered  a  symbol  of  the 
Ascension.  This  may  have  been  a  pious  inversion  of  the 
custom  in  Pagan  Rome  of  setting  free  an  eagle  at  the 
funeral  pyre  of  an  emperor,  in  the  belief  that  this  mes- 
senger of  Jove  would  carry  the  dead  monarch's  soul 
straight  up  to  Olympus. 

The  notion  that  in  death  the  soul  leaves  the  body  in 
the  form  of  a  bird  is  old  and  very  general.  Medieval 
biographies  of  Christian  saints  and  martyrs  abound  in 
instances,  as,  for  example,  the  story  of  Saint  Devote, 


found  in  a  boat  near  Monaco  at  the  moment  of  her  ex- 
piring, with  a  dove  issuing  from  her  lips.67  The  Paris 
Figaro,  in  October,  1872,  describing  the  ceremonies  at 
the  death  of  a  gipsy  in  that  city,  mentioned  that  a  bird 
was  held  close  to  the  mouth  of  the  dying  girl,  ready  to  re- 
ceive her  expired  soul.  This  is  not  an  illogical  idea,  if 
the  conception  of  a  person's  soul  as  a  distinct  entity  is 
conceded;  for  if  it  is  to  fly  away  to  Paradise  it  must 
have  something  in  the  nature  of  wings,  and  a  bird,  or  the 
semblance  of  a  real  bird,  is  inevitably  suggested,  the 
wings  of  a  bat  being  too  repulsive — reserved,  in  fact,  for 
representations  of  Satan  and  his  emissaries.  Angels  and 
genii  have  always  been  provided  by  prophets,  romancers, 
and  artists  with  swanlike  wings,  springing  from  behind 
their  shoulders,  reckless  of  comparative  anatomy — other- 
wise how  could  these  "heavier-than-air"  beings  ac- 
complish their  travelling? 

I  have  said  that  the  theory  that  the  disengaged  soul  de- 
parts to  heaven  in  the  form  of  or  by  aid  of  a  bird  is 
historically  very  old.  Probably,  indeed,  it  is  of  pre- 
historic antiquity,  for  various  savage  peoples  have  arrived 
at  the  same  doctrine,  based  on  an  obvious  philosophy. 
For  example:  Powers19  tells  us  that  the  Keltas  of 
southern  California  believe  that  when  one  of  the  tribe  dies 
a  little  bird  flies  away  with  his  soul.  "If  he  was  a  bad 
Indian  a  hawk  will  catch  the  bird  and  eat  it  up,  body, 
feathers  and  all;  but  if  he  was  a  good  Indian  the  soul- 
bird  will  reach  the  spirit-land." 

In  Christian  iconography  the  eagle  is  the  emblem  of  the 
evangelist  St.  John,  an  assignment  originating,  it  is  said, 
in  Jerome's  interpretation  of  the  amazing  visions  of  the 
four  "beasts"  as  recorded  in  Ezekiel  i  15,  and  somewhat 
less    fantastically    in    Revelations    iv.y.      Wherever    in 


sculpture,  painting,  or  stained  glass  St.  John  appears  he 
may  be  recognized  by  his  eagle;  and  sometimes  the  bird 
is  rather  more  conspicuous  than  the  saint,  as  when  it  is 
bearing  him  aloft  on  its  back,  both  gazing,  open-eyed  and 
resolute,  at  the  sun,  as  the  eagle  is  fabled  to  be  able  to 
do.  This  association  also  accounts  for  the  practice  of 
carving  the  support  of  the  reading-desk  in  both  Catholic 
and  Anglican  churches  in  the  form  of  an  eagle  with 
outstretched  wings.  At  the  beginning,  we  are  told, 
figures  of  all  four  evangelists  upheld  the  lectern;  but 
one  by  one  the  others  disappeared  before  the  demands  of 
artistic  grace  until  at  last  John,  "the  beloved  disciple," 
alone  remained,  and  presently  he  came  to  be  represented 
only  by  his  emblem.  "Medieval  writers,"  remarks  B.  L. 
Gales,  in  an  article  in  The  National  Review  (1808),  "de- 
light in  all  sorts  of  wild  and  wonderful  tales  about  his," 
that  is,  the  eagle's  "renewing  his  youth  by  gazing  at  the 
sun  or  plunging  into  a  clear  stream,  and  allegorize  at 
length  on  the  Waters  of  Baptism  and  the  true  Sun — 
Jesus  Christ."  This,  of  course,  is  simply  a  comparatively 
modern  illustration  of  the  very  ancient  myth  that  when 
the  sun  set  in  the  western  ocean,  yet  arose  bright  and  hot 
next  morning,  it  had  rejuvenated  itself  by  its  bath  as  it 
passed  from  west  to  east  underneath  the  world. 

In  the  East,  where  the  sport  of  falconry  originated,  and 
where  the  Mongols  trained  and  employed,  and  still  do, 
eagles  as  well  as  hawks,  the  falcon  has  acquired  much 
interesting  symbolism,  especially  in  Japan,  as  appears  in 
many  exquisite  drawings  by  early  artists ;  and  often  these 
can  be  fully  understood  and  enjoyed  by  us  of  the  West 
only  when  the  subtle  meaning  involved  in  the  picture  is 
interpreted  to  us,  or  we  learn  the  tradition  to  which  it 
refers.     For  example,  in  Hokusai's  drawing  San  Pitku 


(The  Three  Lucky  Things)  the  mountain  symbolizes  the 
beauty  of  nature,  the  falcon  the  delights  of  the  chase, 
and  the  eggplant  the  wisdom  of  frugality  and  of  the 
simplicity  of  life.  This  undaunted  bird  (talca,  the  heroic 
one)  is  to  the  Japanese  the  symbol  of  victory;  and  the 
Medal  of  Victory,  which  the  government  confers  upon 
distinguished  warriors  has  emblazoned  upon  it  a  golden 
falcon,  in  commemoration  of  the  coming  to  Japan  of  its 
mythical  ancestor,  Jimmu  Tenno;  for  it  is  related  that 
as  he  set  foot  up  on  the  Island's  shore,  a  falcon  flew 
toward  him  and  lit  on  his  bow,  an  incident  which  has  ever 
been  regarded  as  prophetic  of  the  success  of  his  under- 

Little  can  be  added  in  this  connection  concerning  the 
birds  of  prey.  In  ancient  Egypt  the  vulture  represented 
Nekht,  the  tutelary  deity  of  the  South,  who  appeared  to 
men  in  that  form;  and  the  protection  she  accorded  to 
the  queens  of  Egypt  was  indicated  by  the  vulture-head- 
dress worn  by  these  ladies  at  least  during  the  Empire. 
The  kite,  too,  is  connected  with  early  Egyptian  history, 
according  to  a  tradition,  preserved  by  Diodorus  Siculus, 
that  the  book  of  religious  laws  and  customs  was  origi- 
nally brought  to  Thebes  by  a  kite ;  wherefore  the  sacred 
scribes  wore  a  red  cap  with  a  kite's  feather  in  it. 

The  cock  in  Christian  religious  art  is  to  be  interpreted 
as  an  emblem  of  vigilance — also  as  an  image  of  preachers, 
in  which  may  be  a  touch  of  humor.  "When  introduced 
near  the  figure  of  St.  Peter,"  says  one  authority,  "it  ex- 
presses repentance;  in  this  connection  it  is  one  of  the 
emblems  of  the  Passion.,,  The  placing  of  the  image  of 
a  cock  on  church  towers  is  said  to  be  an  allusion  to  Peter 
as  the  head  of  the  Church  on  earth,  and  as  representing 
the  voice  of  the  Church,  which  by  day  and  in  the  watches 


of  the  night  calls  on  men  to  repent.  Another  tradition 
is  that  some  early  pope  ordered  that  the  weathervane  on 
churches  be  in  that  form  in  order  to  remind  the  clergy  of 
the  necessity  of  watchfulness — a  second  reference  to 
Mark,  iii,  35. 

Ragozin  tells  us  that  in  the  Vendida,  the  "Bible"  of  the 
ancient  Medes,  great  credit  is  given  to  the  cock  as  the 
messenger  who  calls  men  to  the  performance  of  their 
religious  duties:  "Arise,  O  men!  Whichever  first  gets 
up  shall  enter  paradise!"  A  Hebrew  legendary  saying 
is  that  when  a  cock  crows  before  dawn  it  warns:  "Re- 
member thy  Creator,  O  thoughtless  man!"  Finally 
Drayton  sings  of — 

The  cock,  the  country  horologe  that  rings 
The  cheerful  warning  to  the  sun's  awake. 

Nowadays,  if  chanticleer  calls  to  mind  anything  in 
particular,  except  wrath  at  his  too  early  rising  to  adore 
the  god  of  day,  it  is  the  spirit  of  boastfulness  and  "cock- 
sureness";  while  his  humble  mate  represents  maternal 
cares  carried  to  the  extreme  of  fussiness. 

The  names  of  a  good  many  birds  serve  as  synonyms  of 
prevailing  ideas,  or  become  figures  of  speech,  without 
having  a  special  myth  or  story  behind  them.  Thus  the 
words  eagle  and  falcon  convey  to  the  listener  the  notion 
of  nobility  in  power,  while  hawk  simply  means  fierceness, 
with  somewhat  of  prying,  detective  skill.  Old  provokes 
in  the  imagination  a  rather  smiling  picture  of  solemn 
pretence  of  wisdom — a  reputation,  by  the  way,  almost 
wholly  due  to  the  little  European  screech-owl's  accidental 
association  with  Pallas  Athene.  Swallow  suggests  spring 
all  over  the  world;  goose  and  gull  connote  easy  credulity 
and  foolishness;  vulture  and  raven,  rapine  and  cruelty; 


parrot  senseless  chatter  or  the  lavish  repetition  of  an- 
other's ideas  or  sayings;  cuckoo,  poaching  on  another 
man's  domestic  preserves ;  and  so  on  down  to  the  stork, 
which  in  Germany  symbolizes  filial  piety  because  of  its 
fancied  solicitude  toward  aged  storks,  and  which  children 
are  taught  to  believe  brings  babies  from  the  fountain  to 
their  mothers'  laps.  The  Chinese  and  Japanese  peasantry 
hold  the  Mandarin  duck  in  high  esteem  as  a  model  of 
conjugal  virtues,  because  it  is  said  to  mate  for  life,  and 
Hindoos  feel  the  same  toward  their  (sarus)  crane — a 
bird  that  figures  extensively  in  the  legendary  lore  of  both 
China  and  Japan.  Figures  of  the  crane  are  found  deco- 
rating bridal  attire  in  Japan,  and  this  bird  is  commended 
to  womankind  generally  in  Nippon  as  an  example  of 
motherhood  to  be  emulated.  "In  this  respect  it  is  like 
the  pheasant,  which  is  said  to  stay  by  her  young  during 
a  grass-fire,  covering  them  with  her  outstretched  wings 
until,  together,  they  perish  in  the  flames ;  for  in  a  similar 
way  the  crane  shields  her  young  from  the  bitter  cold  of 
the  winter  snows." 

In  ancient  Egypt  the  plume  of  the  ostrich,  "on  account 
of  the  mathematical  equality  of  the  opposing  barbs  in 
point  of  length — a  peculiarity  not  present  in  the  primary 
feathers  of  any  other  bird  with  which  the  Egyptians  were 
acquainted — was  regarded  as  the  sacred  symbol  of  justice." 
Osiris  was  represented  with  two  ostrich  plumes  in  his 
crown.  Says  Dr.  Cyrus  Adler:  "The  Egyptian  con- 
sidered the  hoopoe  as  symbolical  of  gratitude  because  it 
repays  the  early  kindness  of  its  parents  in  their  old  age 
by  trimming  their  wings  and  bringing  them  food  when 
they  are  acquiring  new  plumage.  The  Arabs  call  it 
'doctor/  believing  it  to  possess  marvellous  medicinal 
qualities,  and  they  use  its  head  in  charms  and  incanta- 


NO  one  bird  known  to  Americans  is  so  entangled 
with  whatever  witchcraft  belongs  to  birds  as  is 
the  raven,  yet  little  of  it  is  American  besides  Poe's 
melodramatic  mummery,  whose  raven  was  a  borrowed 
piece  of  theatrical  property.  The  shrewd  people  of  this 
country  pay  little  attention  to  signs  and  portents,  yet  some 
survive  among  us,  for  the  extravagant  notions  popularly 
held  as  to  the  sagacity  of  our  crow,  with  its  "courts"  and 
"consultations,"  are  no  doubt  traceable  in  some  measure 
to  the  bird's  history  in  Old  World  superstition. 

In  Europe  no  bird,  save  possibly  the  cuckoo,  is  so  laden 
with  legends  and  superstitious  veneration  as  the  raven, 
chiefly,  however,  in  the  North,  where  it  is  not  only  most 
numerous  and  noticeable  but  seems  to  fit  better  than  in 
the  gladsome  South.  To  the  rough,  virile  Baltic  man,  or 
to  the  Himalayan  mountaineer,  worshipping  force,  care- 
less of  beauty,  this  sable  bird  of  hard  endurance,  challeng- 
ing cry  and  powerful  wing,  the  "ravener,"  tearer,  was  an 
admirable  creature ;  while  to  the  more  esthetic  dweller  by 
the  Mediterranean  or  on  /Egean  shores  such  qualities 
were  repulsive,  and  the  raven  became  a  reminder  of 
winter,  when  alone  it  was  seen  in  the  South,  and  of  the 
savage  forests  and  hated  barbarians  whence  it  came. 
Much  the  same  antithesis  belongs  to  this  bird  and  its 
relatives  in  the  minds  of  Orientals.  To  understand  the 
impression  the  raven  made  on  primitive  men,  and  the 



symbolism  and  dread  that  have  grown  up  about  it,  one 
must  have  some  knowledge  of  the  real  Corvus  corax. 

The  raven  is  the  largest  member  of  the  ornithological 
family  Corvidae,  measuring  two  feet  from  beak  to  tail- 
tip.  It  is  everywhere  black,  with  steel-blue  and  purplish 
reflections,  and  is  distinguished  from  its  equally  black 
cousins,  the  crows,  by  its  stouter  beak,  somewhat  hooked 
at  the  tip,  and  especially  by  the  elongated  and  pointed 
feathers  on  the  throat.  It  is  powerful  in  flight,  and  is 
noted  for  performing  queer  antics  in  the  air.  Judged 
by  its  anatomy  it  stands  high  in  the  scale  of  classification, 
so  that  some  ornithologists,  considering  also  its  intellect, 
have  put  it  quite  at  the  top  of  the  scale — made  it  the  true 
King  of  Birds.  In  its  northern  home  this  species  is  to 
be  found  right  around  the  world,  inhabiting  Asia  and 
Europe  as  far  south  as  the  great  ridge  of  mountains  that 
extends  from  Spain  to  Siberia,  and  also  living  in  Asia 
Minor  and  Syria.  It  is  native  to  all  North  America, 
where  no  arctic  island  is  too  remote  to  be  visited  by  it  in 
summer.  Most  of  the  ravens  fly  southward  in  winter 
from  polar  latitudes  to  kindlier  regions,  but  those  that 
stay  in  the  far  north  become  doubly  conspicuous  in  a 
wilderness  of  snow,  for  they  do  not  turn  white  in  winter 
as  do  many  arctic  residents;  therefore  Goldsmith  wasted 
much  philosophy  in  explaining  in  his  Animated  Nature 
why  they  "become  white.''  The  raven's  ordinary  call- 
note  is  well  enough  described  by  the  words  "croak"  and 
"caw,"  but  it  has  many  variations.  Nuttall  quotes  Por- 
phyrius  as  declaring  that  no  less  than  64  different  intona- 
tions of  the  raven's  cries  were  distinguished  by  the  sooth- 
sayers of  his  day,  and  given  appropriate  significance. 
Some  notes  are  indescribably  queer. 

Ravens  have  almost  disappeared  from  thickly  settled 


regions,  in  striking  contrast  to  their  near  relatives  the 
crows,  rooks,  choughs,  magpies,  jackdaws,  and  various 
related  species  in  the  Old  World,  which  thrive  and  grow 
tame  in  the  company  of  civilized  humanity.  Few  pairs 
of  ravens  remain  in  the  United  States  east  of  the  Rocky 
Mountains,  except  on  the  wilder  parts  of  the  Maine  coast 
and  about  Lake  Superior. 

Readers  of  Charles  Dickens's  novels  will  recall  the  imp- 
ish specimen  "Grip"  that  Barnaby  Rudge  used  to  carry 
about  with  him,  and  which  became  his  fellow-prisoner  in 
jail — and  served  him  right,  for  he  was  always  declaring 
"I'm  a  devil!" 

This  raven  was  modelled  after  an  actual  pet,  named 
"Grip,"  in  the  family  of  the  novelist  when  he  was  writ- 
ing Barnaby  Rudge  in  184 1.  It  died  in  July  of  that  year, 
and  its  body  passed  into  the  possession  of  Dr.  R.  T.  Judd, 
an  English  collector  of  Dickens'  material.  In  1922  this 
collection,  including  the  stuffed  skin  of  Grip,  and  its 
former  cage,  labelled  with  its  owner's  name,  was  offered 
for  sale  at  the  Anderson  Galleries  in  New  York.  It  ap- 
pears from  accompanying  letters  that  as  the  novel  was 
originally  written  it  contained  no  reference  to  the  bird; 
but  before  the  manuscript  was  completed  it  occurred  to 
Mr.  Dickens  that  he  could  make  good  use  of  the  mis- 
chievous creature  in  the  story,  as  is  revealed  in  a  letter 
to  George  Cattermole,  dated  January  28,  1841. 

The  raven  may  not  only  be  tamed  to  the  point  of 
domestication,  but  will  learn  to  speak  a  few  words.  Gold- 
smith asserted,  apparently  from  experience,  that  it  not 
only  would  speak  but  could  "sing  like  a  man."  Like  all 
its  thievish  tribe  it  loves  to  pick  up  and  hide  objects  that 
attract  its  quick  eye,  especially  if  they  are  bright,  like 
a  silver  spoon  or  a  bit  of  jewelry;  and  this  acquisitive 


disposition  has  more  than  once  involved  in  serious  mis- 
fortune servants  accused  of  purloining  lost  articles,  as 
happened  in  the  case  of  the  Jackdaw  of  Rheims. 

The  tradition  on  which  Barham's  Ingoldsby  Legend  is 
embroidered  is  a  very  old  one,  the  earliest  statement  of  which, 
probably,  is  that  in  Mignie's  Patrologia  Latinia,  compiled  by  a 
monk  of  Clairvaux.  The  narrative  is  that  of  an  incident  in  the 
time  of  Frederick  Barbarossa  (12th  century)  when  the  mon- 
astery of  Corvey  was  ruled  by  a  prince-bishop  named  Conrad. 
One  day  he  left  his  episcopal  ring  lying  on  the  dining-table,  and 
it  disappeared.  The  bishop  blamed  the  servants  and  suspected 
his  guests,  and  finally  issued  a  decree  of  excommunication  to- 
ward any  one  who  had  stolen  it.  Thereupon  the  bishop's  pet 
jackdaw  "began  to  sicken  little  by  little,  to  loathe  his  food,  to 
cease  more  and  more  from  his  droll  croakings  and  irrational 
follies  whereby  he  was  wont  to  delight  the  minds  of  fools  who 
neglect  to  fear  God." 

At  this  dreadful  stage  it  occurred  to  some  bright  genius  that 
this  portentous  change  in  the  bird  was  the  effect  of  the  curse, 
and  that  it  was  the  sought-for  thief.  Its  nest  was  searched,  the 
precious  ring  was  found,  the  curse  was  taken  off,  and  the  jack- 
daw recovered  its  plumage  and  good  spirits. 

Where  ravens  can  get  other  food  plentifully  they 
seldom  attack  living  animals.  Bendire  frequently  saw 
them  feeding  among  his  chickens  without  harming  them, 
yet  undoubtedly  they  are  occasionally  guilty  in  our  West 
of  killing  young  lambs,  game-birds,  and  poultry,  sins 
of  which  they  are  much  accused  in  Europe.  Certainly 
they  rob  wild  birds  of  eggs  and  fledglings,  but  these  evil 
deeds  are  done  mainly  in  spring,  in  providing  their  own 
nestlings  with  soft  food.  During  most  of  the  year  the 
food  of  the  raven  consists  of  carrion,  grasshoppers, 
worms,  mussels  and  other  shellfish  (the  larger  kinds  of 
which  they  lift  high  in  the  air  and  then  drop  to  break 
their  shells),  and  of  ground-squirrels  and  young  rabbits 
when  they  can  get  hold  of  them. 


When  a  raven  alights  on  a  dead  animal  its  first  act  is 
to  pluck  out  the  eyes.  One  of  the  barbarities  in  the  an- 
cient East  was  to  throw  the  bodies  of  executed  criminals 
out  to  be  devoured  by  beasts  and  birds  of  prey — a  custom 
of  which  the  Parsee  Towers  of  Silence  is  a  modified  relic. 
The  popular  knowledge  of  this  gave  great  force  to 
Solomon's  warning  {Proverbs  xxx,  17) :  "The  eye  that 
mocketh  at  his  father,  and  despiseth  to  obey  his  mother, 
the  ravens  of  the  valley  shall  pick  it  out" — that  is,  so  bad 
a  boy  would  end  on  the  gallows. 

Although     ravens    were    regarded    by    the     ancient 
Zoroastrians  as  "pure,"   because  they  were  considered 
necessary  to  remove  pollution  from  the  face  of  the  earth, 
the  Jews  classed  this  creature  as  "unclean"  for  the  same 
reason — it   ate  carrion.      In   view   of   this   the   Biblical 
legend  that  the  Prophet  Elijah,  when  he  hid  by  the  brook 
Kerith  from  the  wrath  of  Ahab,  was  fed  by  ravens  at 
command  of  the  Lord,  is  so  unnatural  that  commentators 
have  done  their  best  to  explain  it  away.    To  this  day  the 
Moors  regard  ravens  as  belonging  to  Satan.    In  Chapter 
V  of  the  Koran,  where  the  killing  of  Cain  by  his  brother 
is  described,  we  read:    "And  God  sent  a  raven  which 
scratched  the  earth  to  show  him  how  he  should  hide  the 
shame  [that  is,  the  corpse]  of  his  brother,  and  he  said 
Woe  is  me!  am  I  to  be  like  this  raven?*  .  .  .  and  he 
became  one  of  those  who  repent."     This  is  from  Sale's 
edition,  Philadelphia,  1868;  and  the  editor  adds  a  note 
that  this  legend  was  derived  from  the  Jews,  but  that  in 
their  version  the  raven  appears  not  to  Cain  but  to  Adam, 
who  thereupon  buried  Abel. 

That  a  bird  black  as  night  and  its  mysteries,  a  familiar 
of  the  lightning-riven  pine  and  the  storm-beaten  crag, 


a  ghoulish  attendant  of  battling  men  and  feasting  on  their 
slain,  muttering  strange  soliloquies,  and  diabolically  cun- 
ning withal — that  such  a  creature  should  have  appealed 
to  the  rough  mariners  of  the  North  is  far  from  surpris- 
ing. The  supreme  Norse  god  was  Odin,  an  impersona- 
tion of  force  and  intellect — an  apotheosis,  indeed,  of  the 
Viking  himself;  and  his  ministers  were  two  ravens, 
Hugin  and  Munin,  i.e.,  Reflection  and  Memory.  'They 
sit  upon  his  shoulders  and  whisper  in  his  ears,"  says 
history.  "He  sends  them  out  at  daybreak  to  fly  over  the 
world,  and  they  come  back  at  eve,  toward  meal-time." 
Hence  it  is  that  Odin  knows  so  much,  and  is  called 
Rafnagud,  Raven-god.  Most  solicitously  does  Odin 
express  himself  about  these  ministers  in  Grunner's  lay 
in  the  Elder  Edda : 

Hugin  and   Munin  fly  each  day 

Over   the   spacious    earth.  I  fear   for    Hugin 

That  he  come  not  back, 

Yet  more  anxious  am  I  for  Munin. 

Again,  in  Odin's  fierce  Raven  Song,  Hugin  goes  "to  ex- 
plore the  heavens."  Jupiter's  two  eagles,  sent  east  and 
west,  will  be  recalled  by  readers  of  classic  tales. 

As  the  eagle  of  Jove  became  the  standard  of  the 
Roman  legions,  so  Odin's  bird  was  inscribed  on  the 
shields  and  the  banners  of  his  warrior  sons.  You  may 
see  such  banners  illustrated  in  the  Bayeux  tapestry.  The 
Dane  called  his  standard  landeyda  (land- waster),  and 
had  faith  in  its  miraculous  virtues.  The  original  ensign, 
that  is,  the  one  brought  to  England  by  the  first  invaders, 
is  described  in  St.  Neot's  biographical  Chronicles  (9th 
century).      In   878,    it    records,    a    wild    Danish    rover 


named  Hubba  came  with  twenty-three  ships  on  a  raid 
into  Devon :  but  the  people  rose  and  killed  or  drove  away 
all  the  vikings. 

"And  there  got  they  [that  is,  the  Devon  men]  no 
small  spoil,  wherein  they  took,  moreover,  that  banner 
which  men  call  the  Raven.  For  they  say  that  the  three 
sisters  of  Ingwar  and  Hubba,  the  daughters,  sooth  to 
say,  of  Lodbrock,  wove  that  banner,  and  made  it  all 
wholly  ready  between  morn  and  night  of  a  single  day. 
They  say,  too,  that  in  every  fight  wherein  that  flag  went 
before  them,  if  they  were  to  win  the  raven  in  the  midst 
thereof  seemed  to  flutter,  as  if  it  were  alive,  but  were 
their  doom  to  be  worsted,  then  it  would  droop,  still  and 

Britain  came  to  know  well  that  portentous  flag — 

The  Danish  raven,  lured  by  annual  prey, 
Hung  o'er  the  land  incessant, 

as  Thomson  laments.  Finally  Harold  hurled  the  power 
of  Canute  from  England's  shores  forever,  and  Tennyson 
sings  Harold's  paean: 

We  have  shattered  back 
The  hugest  wave  from  Norseland  ever  yet 
Surged  on  us,  and  our  battle-axes  broken 
The  Raven's  wing,  and  dumbed  the  carrion  croak 
From  the  gray  sea  forever. 

"The  crow  and  the  raven,"  MacBain  71  announces,  "are 
constantly  connected  in  the  Northern  mythologies  with 
battle-deities.  'How  is  it  with  you,  Ravens?'  says  the 
Norse  Raven  Song.  'Whence  are  you  come  with  gory 
beak  at  the  dawning  of  the  day.  .  .  .  You  lodged  last 


night,  I  ween,  where  ye  knew  the  corses  were  lying.' 
The  ravens  also  assist  and  protect  heroes  both  in  Irish 
and  Norse  myth.  It  was  a  lucky  sign  if  a  raven  followed 
a  warrior." 

But  the  bold  Norse  sailors  made  a  more  practical  use 
also  of  this  knowing  bird,  for  in  those  days,  before  the 
compass,  they  used  to  take  ravens  with  them  in  their 
adventurous  voyages  on  the  fog-bound  northern  seas, 
and  trust  the  birds  to  show  them  the  way  back  to  land. 
A  notable  instance  was  Floki's  voyage  to  Iceland  in  864 
A.  D.,  a  few  years  after  that  island's  discovery;  and  the 
French  historian  Mallet30  narrates  it  thus: 

We  are  told  that  Floki,  previous  to  setting  out  on  his  expe- 
dition, performed  a  great  sacrifice,  and  having  consecrated  three 
ravens  to  the  gods  took  them  with  him  to  guide  him  on  his 
voyage.  After  touching  at  the  Shetland  and  Faroe  islands  he 
steered  northwest,  and  when  he  was  fairly  out  at  sea,  let  loose 
one  of  his  ravens,  which,  after  rising  to  a  considerable  elevation, 
directed  its  flight  to  the  land  they  had  quitted.  .  .  .  The  second 
bird,  after  being  some  time  on  the  wing,  returned  to  the  ship, 
a  sign  that  the  land  was  too  far  distant  to  be  descried  even  by 
a  raven  hovering  in  the  sky.  Floki  therefore  continued  his 
course,  and  shortly  afterwards  let  loose  his  third  raven,  which 
he  followed  in  its  flight  until  he  reached  the  eastern  coast  of 

This  is  a  somewhat  poetic  account,  I  imagine,  of  what 
perhaps  was  a  more  prosaic  custom  of  seamanship,  for 
doubtless  it  was  usual  at  that  time  to  carry  several  birds 
on  such  voyages,  and  to  let  them  fly  from  time  to  time 
that  they  might  learn  and  indicate  to  the  voyagers 
whether  land  was  near,  and  in  what  direction,  as  did  old 
Captain  Noah,  master  of  the  good  ship  Ark.     Berthold 


Lauffer52    treats    of    this    point    with    his    customary 
thoroughness  in  his  pamphlet  Bird  Divination: 

Indian  Hindoo  navigators  kept  birds  on  board  ship  for  the 
purpose  of  despatching  them  in  search  of  land.  In  the  Baveru- 
Jataka  it  is  "a  crow  serving  to  direct  navigators  in  the  four 
quarters"  .  .  .  Pliny  relates  that  the  seafarers  of  Taprobane 
(Ceylon)  did  not  observe  the  stars  for  the  purpose  of  naviga- 
tion, but  carried  birds  out  to  sea,  which  they  sent  off  from  time 
to  time  and  then  followed  the  course  of  the  birds'  flying  in  the 
direction  of  the  land.  The  connection  of  this  practice  with 
that  described  in  the  Babylonian  and  Hebraic  traditions  of  the  del- 
uge was  long  ago  recognized.  .  .  .  When  the  people  of  Thera,  an 
island  in  the  iEgean  Sea  emigrated  to  Libya,  ravens  flew  along 
with  them  ahead  of  the  ships  to  show  the  way.  According  to 
Justin  ...  it  was  by  the  flight  of  birds  that  the  Gauls  who 
invaded  Illyricum  were  guided.  Emperor  Jimmu  of  Japan 
(7th  century)  engaged  in  a  war  expedition  and  marched  under 
the  guidance  of  a  gold-colored  raven. 

Mr.  Lauffer  might  have  added  that  Callisthenes  relates  that 
two  heaven-sent  ravens  led  the  expedition  of  Alexander  across 
the  trackless  desert  from  the  Mediterranean  coast  to  the  oasis 
of  Ammon  (Siwah),  recalling  stragglers  now  and  then  by 
hoarse  croaking. 

The  folklore  of  northern  Europe  is  full  of  the  cunning 
and  exploits  of  this  bird  and  its  congeners,  which  it  would 
be  a  weary  task  to  disentangle  from  pure  myth.  In 
Germany  there  is,  or  was,  a  stone  gibbet  called,  with 
gruesome  memories,  Ravenstone,  to  which  Byron  alludes 
in  Werner — 

Do  you  think 
I'll  honor  you  so  much  as  save  your  throat 
From  the  Ravenstone  by  choking  myself? 

We  read  that  the  old  Welsh  king  Owein,  son  of  Urien, 
had  in  his  army  three  hundred  doughty  ravens,  consti- 
tuting an  irresistible  force;  perhaps  they  were  only  human 


"shock"  troops  who  bore  this  device  on  their  targes. 
Cuchulain,  the  savage  hero  of  Irish  fables,  had,  like  Odin, 
two  magic  ravens  that  advised  him  of  the  approach  of 
foes.  Old-fashioned  Germans  believe  that  Frederick  I 
(Barbarossa)  is  sleeping  under  Raven's  Hill  at  Kaiser- 
lauten,  ready  to  come  forth  in  the  last  emergency  of  his 
country.  There  in  his  grotto-palace  a  shepherd  found 
him  sleeping.  Barbarossa  awoke  and  asked:  "Are  the 
ravens  still  flying  around  the  hill?"  The  shepherd 
answered  that  they  were.  "Then,"  sighed  the  king,  "I 
must  sleep  another  hundred  years." 

Waterton  73  tells  us  that  a  tradition  was  once  current 
throughout  the  whole  of  Great  Britain  that  King  Arthur 
was  changed  into  a  raven  (some  say  a  chough)  by  the  art 
of  witchcraft;  and  that  in  due  time  he  would  be  restored 
to  human  form,  and  return  with  crown  and  sceptre.  In 
Brittany,  where  Arthur  and  his  knights  are  much  more 
real  than  even  in  Cornwall,  the  sailor-peasants  will  assure 
you  that  he  was  buried  on  the  little  isle  of  Avalon,  just 
off  the  foreshore  of  Tregastel,  but  they  will  add  very 
seriously  that  he  is  not  dead.  If  you  inquire  how  that 
can  be,  they  will  explain  that  the  great  king  was  con- 
veyed thither  magically  by  Morgan  le  Fay,  and  he  and 
she  dwell  there  in  an  underground  palace.  They  are  in- 
visible now  to  all  human  eyes,  and  when  Arthur  wants 
to  go  out  into  the  air  his  companion  turns  him  into  a 
raven ;  and  perchance,  in  proof,  your  boatman  may  point 
your  gaze  toward  a  real  raven  sitting  on  the  rocks  of  the 

Ravens  figure  in  many  monkish  legends,  too,  usually  in 
a  beneficent  attitude,  in  remembrance  of  their  friendly 
offices  toward  Elijah.  Saint  Cuthbert  and  several  lesser 
saints  and  hermits  were  fed  by  these  or  similar  birds. 


One  hermit  subsisted  many  years  on  a  daily  ration  of 
half  a  loaf  of  bread  brought  him  by  a  raven,  and  one 
time,  when  another  saint  visited  him,  the  bird  pro- 
vided a  whole  loaf!  Fish  was  frequently  brought:  and 
once  when  a  certain  eremite  was  ill,  the  bird  furnished 
the  fish  already  cooked,  and  fed  it  to  the  patient  bit  by 
bit.  Miss  Walker  39  shows  that  as  a  companion  of  saints 
this  bird  has  had  a  wide  and  beneficent  experience,  which 
may  be  set  against  the  more  conspicuous  pages  of  mis- 
deeds in  his  highly  variegated  record.  Thus  we  learn 
that  St.  Benedict's  raven  saved  his  life  by  bearing  away 
the  poisoned  loaf  sent  to  this  saint  by  a  jealous  priest. 
"After  his  torture  and  death  at  Saragossa,  when  the  body 
of  St.  Vincent  was  thrown  to  the  wild  beasts  it  was  res- 
cued by  ravens  and  borne  to  his  brothers  at  Valencia, 
where  it  reposed  in  a  tomb  till  the  Christians  of  that  place 
were  expelled  by  the  Moors.  The  remains  of  the  saint 
were  .  .  .  again  placed  in  a  tomb  [at  Cape  St.  Vincent] 
to  be  guarded  forever  more  by  the  faithful  ravens." 
Have  you  doubts  about  this  story?  Go  to  that  wild  head- 
land, where  Portugal  sets  a  firm  foot  against  the  Atlantic, 
watch  the  ravens  hovering  above  it,  and  be  convinced! 
And  to  many  other  holy  men  did  these  noble  birds  render 
substantial  service — to  St.  Meinrad  especially,  as  is 
affirmed  by  no  less  an  authority  than  the  great  Jerome. 

"In  some  parts  of  Germany,''  Miss  Walker  records, 
"these  birds  are  believed  to  hold  the  souls  of  the  damned, 
while  in  other  sections  wicked  priests  only  are  supposed 
to  be  so  re-incarnated.  In  Sweden  the  ravens  croaking 
at  night  in  the  swamps  are  said  to  be  the  ghosts  of  mur- 
dered persons  who  have  been  denied  Christian  burial." 
A  local  and  humorous  touch  is  given  to  this  conception 
by  the  Irish  in  Kerry,  who  allege  that  the  rooks  there 


are  the  ghosts  of  bad  old  landlords,  because  they  steal 
vegetables  from  the  peasants'  gardens — "Always  robbin' 
the  poor!" 

This  eerie  feeling  is  of  long  descent.  The  supreme 
war-goddess  of  the  Gaels,  as  Squire 7*  explains,  was 
Morrigu,  the  Red  Woman  or  war-goddess,  who  figures 
in  the  adventures  of  Cuchulain,  and  whose  favorite  dis- 
guise was  to  change  herself  into  a  carrion-crow,  the 
"hoodie-crow"  of  the  Scotch.  She  had  assistants  who 
revelled  among  the  slain  on  a  battlefield.  "These  grim 
creatures  of  the  savage  mind  had  immense  vitality  .  .  . 
indeed,  they  may  be  said  to  survive  still  in  the  supersti- 
tious dislike  and  suspicion  shown  in  all  Keltic-speaking 
countries  for  their  avatar — the  hoodie  crow." 

In  Pennant's  Tour  in  Scotland  (1771)  is  described  a 
curious  ceremony  in  which  offerings  were  made  by  Scot- 
tish herdsmen  to  the  hooded  crow,  eagle  and  other 
enemies  of  sheep  to  induce  them  to  spare  the  flocks.  A' 
Morayshire  saying  in  old  times  ran  thus: 

The  guil,  the  Gordon,  and  the  hoodie  crow, 
Were  the  three  worst  things  Murray  ever  saw. 

(The  guil,  Swann  explains,  is  an  obnoxious  weed,  the 
Gordon  refers  to  the  thieving  propensities  of  a  neighbor- 
ing clan,  and  the  crow  killed  lambs  and  annoyed  sickly 
sheep.)  "It  is  interesting,"  says  Wentz,62  "to  observe 
that  this  Irish  war-goddess  Morrigu,  the  bodb  or  babd, 
.  .  .  has  survived  to  our  own  day  in  the  fairy-lore  of  the 
chief  Celtic  countries.  In  Ireland  the  survival  in  the 
popular  and  still  almost  general  belief  among  the 
peasantry  that  the  fairies  often  exercise  their  magical 
powers  under  the  form  of  royston  crows;  and  for  this 
reason    these   birds    are    always    greatly    dreaded    and 


avoided.  The  resting  of  one  of  them  on  a  peasant's 
cottage  may  signify  many  things,  but  often  it  means  the 
death  of  one  of  the  family  or  some  great  misfortune,  the 
bird  in  such  case  playing  the  part  of  a  bean-sidhe 
(banshee)"  In  the  western  Highlands  "the  hoody  crow 
plays  the  same  role;  and  in  Brittany  fairies  assume  the 
form  of  the  magpie." 

Under  the  influence  of  Christian  teaching  Odin 
gradually  became  identified  throughout  northern  Europe 
with  Satan:  so  the  raven  and  all  the  Corvidae  are  now 
"Devil's  birds"  in  the  folklore  of  the  North.  Even  the 
magpie  is  said  to  have  devils'  blood  in  its  tongue,  and  its 
chattering  is  ominous  of  evil,  requiring  various  rustic 
charms  to  counteract  its  harm — in  fact,  if  the  farmer- 
folk  are  correctly  informed,  virtually  all  the  birds  of  this 
family  was  naturally  tainted  with  deviltry.  It  is  not  sur- 
prising then  to  hear  that  European  crows  go  down  to  hell 
once  every  year,  when  they  must  appear  before  Old 
Nick  and  give  him  a  tribute  of  feathers.  The  time  of 
this  visit  coincides  with  their  moulting-season  in  mid- 
summer, when  the  crows  retire  and  remain  inconspicuous 
and  silent  for  a  time — so  maybe  it's  true ! 

An  extraordinary  survival  of  this  last  notion — unless 
it  be  original — is  found  among  the  negroes  of  some  of 
our  Southern  States,  who  say  that  the  "jaybird"  (blue- 
jay)  is  never  to  be  seen  on  Friday,  because  on  that  day 
he  is  carrying  sticks  to  the  Devil  in  hell ;  that  in  general 
this  bird  is  the  Devil's  messenger  and  spy;  and  that  the 
reason  he  is  so  gay  and  noisy  on  Saturday  is  that  he  is 
so  glad  to  get  back  to  earth.  An  old  Georgia  darky  ex- 
plained the  matter  a  follows : 

"Some  folks  say  Br'er  Jay  takes  a  piece  er  wood,  des  a 
splinter,  down  to  de  bad  Place  ev'y  Friday  fer  ter  help  out 


Mister  Devil,  so's  to  let  him  'n*  his  wife,  ole  Aunty  Squatty, 
have  good  kindlin'  wood  all  de  time.  .  .  .  But  some  folks  tell 
de  tale  mother  way.  Dey  say  he  make  dat  trip  ever'  Friday 
ter  tote  down  des  a  grit  er  dirt.  He  make  de  trip  sho'. 
Ever'body  knows  dat.  But  for  what  he  goes  folks  tells  diffunt 
tales.  You  sho'ly  can't  see  a  jay  bird  in  dis  worl'  on  Friday 
fum  twelve  o'clock  twel  three — hit  takes  'em  des  dat  long  ter 
make  de  trip.  .  .  .  Some  folks  say  Bre'r  Jay  and  all  his  fambly, 
his  folks,  his  cousins,  and  his  kin,  does  go  dat  way  and  d'rection, 
ev'y  one  totin'  dey  grain  o'  sand  in  der  bill  an'  drappin'  hit  in — 
des  one  teeny  weeny  grit — wid  de  good  hopes  er  fillin'  up  dat 
awful  place."2 

Lousiana  negroes  are  of  the  opinion  that  the  jay  is 
condemned  to  this  weekly  trip  as  a  punishment  for  mis- 
behavior at  Christ's  crucifixion,  but  what  dreadful  deed 
he  did  has  been  forgotten.  Every  reader  of  "Uncle 
Remus,"  or  of  the  stories  of  Mrs.  Ruth  McEnery  Stuart, 
Mr.  Harry  Stillwell  Edwards,  and  other  Southern 
writers,  knows  how  largely  the  "jaybird"  figures  in  the 
plantation-tales  of  the  negroes,  especially  of  the  coastal 
districts,  where  the  blue  jay  is  one  of  the  most  conspicuous 
and  interesting  of  resident  birds. 

The  coming  of  Christianity,  as  has  been  said,  swept 
away  the  images  of  Odin  and  of  his  Pagan  familiars 
Hugin  and  Munin  out  of  both  Teutonic  and  Keltic 
Europe,  but  it  did  not  sweep  away  the  birds  themselves, 
nor  discolor  their  sable  wings,  nor  silence  the  baleful 
croak;  and  the  impression  left  by  the  old  tales  lingered 
long  in  the  minds  of  the  people.  To  the  horror  of  the 
raven  and  his  kind  among  the  natives  of  Britain,  as  a 
symbol  of  the  northern  marauders  from  whom  they  had 
so  long  suffered,  was  now  added  the  anathema  of  pious 
missionaries  who  condemned  everything  pagan  as 
diabolic,  and  all  things  black — except  their  own  robes — - 
as  typifying  the  powers  of  darkness.     Truly,  remarked 


St.  Ambrose,  all  shamelessness  and  sin  are  dark  and 
gloomy,  and  feed  on  the  dead  like  the  crow.  A  Chinese 
epithet  for  the  raven  is  "Mongols'  coffin." 

The  people  were  sincere  enough  in  this,  for  behind 
them  was  not  only  the  Devil-fearing  superstition  of  the 
Middle  Ages  but  a  long  line  of  parent  myths  and  folklore 
that  made  the  bird's  reputation  as  black  as  its  plumage, 
and  added  to  this  was  the  new  and  terrifying  idea  of 
prophecy.  You  get  a  hint  of  the  feeling  in  Gower's 
Confessio  Amantis: 

A  Raven  by  whom  yet  men  maie 
Take  evidence,  when  he  crieth, 
That  some   mishap  it  signifieth. 

In  Greece  and  Italy  ravens  were  sacred  to  Apollo,  the 
great  patron  of  augurs,  who  in  a  pet  turned  this  bird  from 
white  to  black — and  an  ill  turn  it  was,  for  black  feathers 
make  black  birds;  and  in  this  blackness  of  coat  lies,  in 
my  opinion,  the  root  of  their  sinister  repute. 

The  "jumbie-bird,"  or  "big  witch,"  of  the  West  Indian 
region,  for  example,  is  the  dead-black  ani,  a  kind  of 
cuckoo.  Spenser  speaks  of  "the  hoarse  night-raven, 
trompe  of  doleful  dreer,"  but  his  "night-raven"  was  not 
a  raven  at  all,  but  the  bittern. 

It  is  only  in  an  earlier  day  and  under  a  brighter  sky 
that  we  find  these  corvine  prophets  taking  a  more 
cheerful  view  of  the  future.  Of  course  they  are  among 
the  "rain-birds": 

How  the  curst  raven  with  his  harmless  voice 
Invokes  the  rain. 

So  the  "foresight  of  a  raven"  became  proverbial,  as 


Waterton73  illustrates  by  an  anecdote:  "Good  farmer 
Muckdrag's  wife,  while  jogging  on  with  eggs  to  market, 
knew  there  was  mischief  brewing  as  soon  as  she  had 
heard  a  raven  croak  on  the  unlucky  side  of  the  road: 

"That  raven  on  the  left-hand  oak, 
Curse  on   his   ill-betiding  croak, 
Bodes  me  no  good !" 

She  had  scarcely  uttered  this  when  down  came  her  old 
stumbling  mare  to  the  ground.  Her  every  egg  was 
smashed  to  atoms ;  and  whilst  she  lay  sprawling  .  .  .  she 
was  perfectly  convinced  in  her  own  mind  that  the  raven 
had  clearly  foreseen  her  irreparable  misadventure." 

If  one  alighted  on  a  church-tower  the  whole  parish 
trembled,  and  when  a  cottager  saw  one  perched  on  his 
roof-tree  he  made  his  will;  or  if  it  happened  that  a 
man  or  woman  was  ill  in  his  house  the  death  of  that 
person  was  regarded  as  certain.  The  more  learned 
would  quote  for  you  how  Tiberius,  Plato,  Cicero  and 
other  great  men  of  the  past  had  been  similarly  warned, 
and  doubtless  many  a  person  has  died  in  these  circum- 
stances of  nervous  fright  and  discouragement.  It  is  to 
this  dread  that  Marlowe  refers  in  his  Jew  of  Malta: 

Like  the  sad  presaging  raven  that  tolls 
The  sick  man's  passport  in  her  hollow  beak, 
And,  in  the  shadow  of  the  silent  night, 
Does  shake  contagion  from  her  sable  wing. 

The  last  line  contains  a  new  and  heinous  calumny 
widely  credited.  So  Shakespeare  makes  Caliban  threaten 
Prospero  and  Ariel  with 

As  wicked  dew  as  e'er  my  mother  brushed 
With  raven's  feather  from  unwholesome  fen. 



I  wonder,  by  the  way,  who  first  spoke — the  simile  is, 
at  any  rate,  as  old  as  Chaucer's  time — of  the  wrinkles  that 
gather  about  the  corners  of  our  eyes  when  we  get  on  in 
life,  as  "crow's  feet"?  Frederick  Locker  sings  of  his 

Her  locks  as  white  as  snow, 
Once  shamed  the  swarthy  crow; 

That  fowl's  avenging  sprite 
Set  his  cruel  foot  for  spite 

Near  her  eye. 

The  expression  of  course  is  a  suggestion  of  the  radiat- 
ing form  of  the  wrinkles  at  the  outer  corner  of  the  eye 
to  a  crow's  track;  and  this  reminds  us  of  the  fact  that 
when  soon  after  the  Norman  conquest  in  England  there 
was  a  vast  popular  interest  in  royal  genealogy,  people 
spoke  of  the  branching  form  of  a  family  tree,  when 
drawn  on  paper,  as  a  "crane's  foot"  (pied  de  grue), 
whence  our  term  pedigree. 

Omens  are  deduced  from  the  flight  and  cries  of  ravens, 
crows,  magpies,  and  certain  other  corvine  species, 
especially  as  regards  their  direction  relative  to  the  in- 
quirer. Horace,  for  example,  in  his  Ode  to  Galatea  on 
her  undertaking  a  journey,  tells  her  that  he,  as  a  "prov- 
ident augur," 

Ere  the  wierd  crow,  re-seeking  stagnant  marshes, 
Predict  the  rainstorm,  will  invoke  the  raven 
From  the  far  East,  who,  as  the  priestlier  croaker, 
Shall  overawe  him. 

That  is  to  say,  Horace  will  make  the  raven,  appearing  or 
heard  from  the  eastward  (the  lucky  direction),  over-rule 
the  bad  omen  of  the  crow. 


There  is  also  grave  meaning  in  the  number  visible  at 
one  time,  as  Matthew  Lewis  knew  when  he  wrote  the 
ballad  Bill  Jones: 

"Ah,  well-a-day,"  the  sailor  said, 
"Some  danger  must  impend, 
Three  ravens  sit  in  yonder  glade, 
And  evil  will  happen  I'm  sore  afraid 
Ere  we  reach  our  journey's  end." 

"And  what  have  the  ravens  with  us  to  do? 

Does  their  sight  betoken  us  evil?" 
"To  see  one  raven  is  luck,  'tis  true, 
But   it's   certain   misfortune   to    light   upon   two, 

And  meeting  with  three  is  the  devil." 

Quoting  Margaret  Walker:  39 

The  belief  in  his  power  of  divination  was  so  general  that 
knowledge  of  the  whereabouts  of  the  lost  has  come  to  be  known 
as  "raven's  knowledge."  To  the  Romans  he  was  able  to  reveal 
the  means  of  restoring  lost  eyesight  even.  In  Germany  he  was 
able  to  tell  not  only  where  lost  articles  were,  but  could  also 
make  known  to  survivors  where  the  souls  of  their  lost  friends 
were  to  be  found.  In  Bohemia  he  was  assigned  the  task  usually 
performed  by  the  stork  in  other  lands,  while  in  some  parts 
of  Germany  witches  were  credited  with  riding  upon  his  back  in- 
stead of  on  the  conventional  broomstick. 

Regular  formulas  regarding  magpies  are  repeated  in 
rural  Britain,  where  magpies  are  numerous — they  are 
common  in  our  American  West,  also,  but  nobody  is  super- 
stitious about  them  there — of  which  a  common  example 

One  for  sorrow,  two  for  mirth, 
Three  for  a  wedding,  four  for  a  birth. 

Many  variations  of  these  formulas  are  on  record,  some 
carrying  the  rimes  up  to  eight  or  nine  pies  seen  at  once ; 



and  folklore  has  many  quaint  ways  of  dissipating  the 
evil  effects  feared  from  their  presence. 

Now  all  this  is  but  the  ragtag  and  bobtail,  as  it  were, 
of  the  science  of  the  ancient  Oriental  world  that  has  come 
down  to  us  in  frayed  and  disconnected  fragments,  to  be 
now  a  matter  more  of  amusing  research  than  of  belief  or 
practice  among  most  of  us.  It  was  old  even  at  the  be- 
ginning of  the  Christian  era,  but  all  the  ornithomancy  of 
the  Greek  and  Roman  soothsayers  was  inherited  in  its 
principle,  if  not  always  in  its  forms,  from  the  remotely 
antique  "wisdom"  of  the  East,  in  which  the  consultation 
of  birds  appears  to  be  the  basis  of  divination. 

In  the  Far  East  the  raven  has  been  regarded  from 
time  immemorial  with  dread  interest,  and  where  that 
species  was  rare  the  crow — equally  black,  destructive, 
and  cunning — took   its   place.      To   the   primitive   phi- 
losophers of  Persia  and  India  the  raven  was  a  divine  bird, 
of  celestial  origin  and  supernatural  abilities,  and  was  the 
messenger  who  announced  the  will  of  the  Deity.     A 
German  commentator  on  the  Vcdas,  H.  Oldenberg,  con- 
cludes that  the  animals  sent  by  the  gods,  as  pictured  in  the 
myths,  were  those  of  a  weird,  demoniacal  nature,  and 
were  for  this  reason  themselves  deified,  but  subsequently 
became  mere  stewards  to  divine  mandators.     "In  the 
belief  of  the  Persians/'  says  Lauffer,  "the  raven  was 
sacred  to  the  god  of  light  and  the  sun."  Moncure  D.  Con- 
way,66 when  discussing  the  Biblical  legend  of  the  Deluge, 
suggests  that  the  raven  sent  out  of  the  Ark  may  typify 
the  "darkness  of  the  face  of  the  deep,"  and  the  dove  the 
"spirit  of  God"  that  "moved  upon  the  face  of  the  waters." 
In  China,  Dr.  Williams  76  tells  us,  "the  sun  is  signalized 
by  the  figure  of  a  raven  in  a  circle."    I  have  seen  Chinese 
drawings  of  it  in  which  the  raven  (or  a  crow)  stood  on 


three  legs,  as  does  the  toad  that  the  Taoists  see  in  the 
moon — but  why  three  legs?  Mrs.  Ball  answers  this 
question  thus : 

The  crow — known  in  China  as  wuya,  and  in  Japan  as  karasu 
■ — is  most  intimately  related  to  the  sun.  Ch'un  Ch'iu  in  an 
ancient  poem  says:  ''The  spirit  of  the  sun  is  a  crow  with  three 
legs";  while  again  Hwai  Nan  Tse,  an  ancient  philosopher,  ex- 
plains that  this  crow  has  three  legs  because  the  number  three 
is  the  emblem  of  yang  [light,  good]  of  which  the  sun  is  the 
supreme  essence.  .  .  .  The  Chinese,  it  would  appear,  actually 
believed  in  the  existence  of  a  three-legged  crow,  for  in  the 
official  history  of  the  Wei  dynasty — 3d  century  A.  D. — it  is 
related  that  "more  than  thirty  times,  tributes  consisting  of  three- 
legged  crows  were  brought  from  the  neighboring  countries. 
.  .  .  The  principal  of  sun-worship  [in  Japan]  was  Amateresu 
no  Ohokami,  from  whom  the  imperial  family  traces  its  descent. 
This  divinity  .  .  .  had  as  her  messenger  and  attendant  ...  a 
red  bird  having  three  legs." 

Based  on  the  fears  and  philosophy  indicated  above,  the 
soothsayers  of  India  contrived  a  most  elaborate  scheme 
of  judging  meanings  from  the  actions  of  ravens  and 
crows,  for  little  attention  seems  to  have  been  paid  to 
ornithological  distinctions;  and  this  spread  in  very  early 
times  to  China  and  Thibet.  It  is  a  wonderful  monument 
of  priestcraft,  which  has  been  elucidated  by  several 
students  of  early  Oriental  manuscripts;  and  I  am  in- 
debted to  a  profoundly  learned  discourse  on  the  subject 
by  Dr.  Berthold  Lauffer.52  Briefly  the  scheme  was  as 

A  table  or  chart  was  constructed  containing  ninety 
squares,  each  square  holding  an  interpretation  of  one  or 
another  sound  of  a  raven's  or  crow's  voice;  but  his 
utterances  were  separated  into  five  characters  of  sound, 
and  the  day  divided  into  five  "watches,"  while  the  direc- 
tion from  which  the  bird's  voice  came  may  be  from  any 


one  of  eight  points  of  the  compass,  or  from  the  zenith, 
making  nine  points  in  all.  Multiplying  these  together 
gives  the  ninety  squares  of  the  mystic  table,  and  the  inter- 
section of  two  conditions  gives  you  the  square  where  the 
appropriate  interpretation  or  prophecy  is  written. 

Thus  if  in  the  first  watch  (i.e.,  early  in  the  morning) 
you  hear  a  raven  in  the  east  say  ka-ka,  your  wish  to  ob- 
tain more  property  will  be  fulfilled;  but  if  in  the  fourth 
watch  you  hear  a  bird  off  in  the  southeast  say  da-da  you 
may  be  sure  that  a  storm  will  arise  in  seven  days.  Five 
different  tones  of  the  cawing  were  recognized  as  sig- 
nificant. Just  where  and  what  you  see  a  raven  do  when 
you  are  travelling  foretells  some  sort  of  a  fortunate  or 
unfortunate  incident  of  the  progress  or  outcome  of  your 
journey;  yet  these  omens  differ  according  to  whether  you 
are  moving  and  the  bird  is  stationary,  or  you  are  stand- 
ing still  and  the  bird  is  flying,  or  both  or  neither  are 
motionless ! 

There  was  also  a  settled  rule  for  taking  prognostica- 
tions from  the  nests  of  these  birds.  "When  a  crow  has 
built  its  nest  on  a  branch  on  the  east  side  of  a  tree,"  ac- 
cording to  Donacila's  translation  of  a  Thibetan  manu- 
script, "a  good  year  and  rain  will  be  the  result  of  it. 
When  it  has  built  its  nest  on  a  southern  branch  the  crops 
will  then  be  bad.  When  it  has  built  its  nest  on  a  branch 
in  the  middle  of  a  tree,  a  great  fright  will  then  be  the  re- 
sult of  it.  When  it  makes  its  nest  below,  fear  of  the 
army  of  one's  adversary  will  be  the  result  of  it.  When  it 
makes  its  nest  on  a  wall,  on  the  ground,  or  on  a  river, 
the  [sick]  king  will  be  healed." 

Whenever  it  appears  that  the  omen  observed  portends 
harm,  offerings  of  food  and  so  forth  must  be  made  to 
the  bird  in  order  to  avert  the  evil,  and  these  offerings  vary 


according  to  prescribed  rules.  It  is  no  wonder  that  an 
extensive  priesthood  was  needed  to  aid  in  this  intricate 
guarding  against  danger  or  the  foretelling  of  benefits 
to  come;  and  one  suspects  that  the  whole  thing  was  a 
clever  invention  by  the  sacerdotal  class  to  provide  priests 
with  a  good  living.  Nor  have  the  practices,  and  much 
less  the  superstitious  notions  behind  them,  become  wholly 
obsolete,  for  not  only  in  India  and  China  are  the  move- 
ments of  birds  now  watched  with  anxiety,  and  offerings 
made  to  them  in  the  temples  and  individually  by  the 
peasantry,  but  similar  ideas  and  practices  prevail  in  all 
Malayan  lands,  as  readers  of  such  books  as  Skeat's  Malay 
Magic  7  may  learn. 

Perhaps  learned  students  of  ancient  ways  of  thinking 
may  be  able  to  explain  why  the  direction  of  a  prophetic 
bird  from  the  listener  was  an  essential  element  in  its 
message:  for  example,  why  is  the  cawing  of  a  crow 
east  of  you  a  more  favorable  portent  than  cawing  from 
the  west?  Lord  Lytton  studies  this  question  briefly  in 
the  Notes  to  his  translation  of  the  Odes  of  Horace,  who, 
in  his  Ode  to  Galatea,  exclaims : 

May  no  chough's  dark  shadow 
Lose  thee  a  sunbeam,  nor  one  green  woodpecker 
Dare  to  tap  leftward. 

Why  should  "leftward"  (Icevus)  signify  ill-luck  in  this 
case,  when  the  left  was  considered  lucky  by  the  Romans, 
although  unlucky  by  the  Greeks?  "It  is  suggested,"  is 
Lytton's  comment,  "that  the  comparison  may  have  arisen 
from  the  different  practice  of  the  Greeks  and  Romans  in 
taking  note  of  birds — the  former  facing  north,  the  latter 
south  [an  attitude  connected  with  migration?]  I  believe, 
however,  it  was  the  tap  of  the  woodpecker,  and  not  his 


flight,  that  was  unlucky.  It  is  so  considered  still  in 
Italy,  and  corresponds  to  our  superstitious  fear  of  the 
beetle  called  the  death-watch.  If,  therefore,  heard  on  the 
left,  or  heart  side,  it  directly  menaced  life." 

I  leave  the  solution  of  the  general  problem  of  the 
value  of  direction  in  ancient  ornithomancy  to  the 
Orientalists,  advising  them  that  a  hint  of  subtile  and  half- 
forgotten  reasons  for  such  distinctions  may  be  found  in 
the  ideas  prevailing  among  the  shamans,  or  "medicine 
men,"  of  our  southwestern  village-Indians;  among  the 
Hopi  (miscalled  Mokis),  for  example,  North  is  repre- 
sented in  their  mystical  ceremonies  by  yellow,  West  by 
blue,  South  by  red,  and  East  by  white. 

Religious  interest  in  black-hued  birds  is  not  confined 
to  the  Old  World,  as  was  tragically  illustrated  in  that 
remarkable  excitement  among  the  Indians  of  the  Upper 
Missouri  region  in  1890,  known  as  the  Ghost  Dance,  of 
which    the    crow    was    the    honored    symbol.      James 
Mooney,77  of  the  United  States  Bureau  of  Ethnology,  in- 
vestigated this  outburst  of  sentiment  very  thoroughly, 
and  explained  it  at  length  in  the  14th  Annual  Report  of 
that  Bureau,  from  which  I  extract  the  information  as  to 
the  crow's  part  in  the  matter.    Dr.  Mooney  reminds  us  in 
advance  that  the  crow  was  probably  held  sacred  by  all 
the  tribes  of  the  Algonquian  race.      Roger  Williams, 
speaking  of  the  New  England  tribes,  says  that  although 
the  crow  did  damage  to  the  corn,  hardly  an  Indian  would 
kill  one,  because  it  was  their  tradition  that  this  bird  had 
brought  them  their  first  grain  and  vegetables,  "carrying 
a  grain  of  corn  in  one  ear  and  a  bean  in  the  other  from 
the  field  of  their  great  god  Cautantouwit  in  Sowwaniu, 
the  Southwest,  the  happy  spirit-world  where  dwelt  the 
gods  and  the  souls  of  the  great  and  good." 


The  so-called  Ghost  Dance  meant  to  the  Plains  Indians 
generally  a  preparation  for  the  coming  of  a  superhuman 
Messiah  who  would  restore  the  old  order  of  things  when 
the  redman  was  supreme  in  the  land,  and  free  from  the 
restraint  of  an  alien  and  encroaching  civilization;  and 
primarily  it  contained  no  special  hostility  toward  white 

Among  the  western  redmen  the  eagle  for  its  general 
superiority,  the  magpie  (particularly  by  the  Paiutes), 
the  sagehen  because  connected  with  the  country  whence 
the  Messiah  was  to  come,  and  some  other  birds,  were  re- 
vered in  certain  subsidiary  ceremonies;  but  the  central 
bird-figure  in  this  excitement  was  the  crow,  for  it  was 
regarded  as  the  directing  messenger  from  the  spirit- 
world,  because  its  color  is  a  reminder  of  death  and  the 
shadow-land.  I  have  seen  the  figures  of  two  upward  fly- 
ing crows  and  two  magpies  in  a  "medicine  shirt"  made 
to  be  worn  in  the  Ghost  Dance.  The  raven  shared  in  this 
devotional  respect,  but  is  rare  on  the  northern  plains, 
where  its  humbler  relative  was  an  abundant  substitute. 
Some  understanding  of  this  supreme  position  of  the  crow 
in  the  Ghost-dancing — the  equivalent  of  our  "revival" 
meetings — may  be  had  by  examining  the  Arapahoe 
version  of  the  belief  on  which  the  anticipated  advent  of 
a  red  Messiah  was  based.  Dr.  Mooney  expounds  it 7T  as 

In  Arapahoe  belief  the  spirit  world  is  in  the  west,  not  on  the 
same  level  with  this  earth  of  ours,  but  higher  up,  and  sepa- 
rated also  from  it  by  a  body  of  water.  .  .  .  The  crow,  as  the 
messenger  and  leader  of  the  spirits  who  had  gone  before  [i.e. 
the  dead]  collected  their  armies  on  the  other  side  and  advanced 
at  their  head  to  the  hither  limit  of  the  shadow-land.  Then, 
looking  over,  they  saw  far  below  them  a  sea,  and  far  out  be- 
yond it  toward  the  east  was  the  boundary  of  the  earth,  where 


lived  the  friends  they  were  marching  to  rejoin.  Taking  up 
a  pebble  in  his  beak,  the  crow  then  dropped  it  into  the  water 
and  it  became  a  mountain  towering  up  to  the  land  of  the 
dead.  Down  its  rocky  slope  he  brought  his  army  until  they 
halted  at  the  edge  of  the  water.  Then  taking  some  dust  in  his 
bill  the  crow  flew  out  and  dropped  it  into  the  water  as  he  flew, 
and  it  became  a  solid  arm  of  land  stretching  from  the  spirit 
world  to  the  earth.  He  returned  and  flew  out  again,  this  time 
with  some  blades  of  grass,  which  he  dropped  upon  the  land 
thus  made  and  at  once  it.  was  covered  with  a  green  sod.  Again 
he  returned  and  again  flew  out,  this  time  with  some  twigs  in 
his  bill,  and  dropping  these  also  upon  the  new  land,  at  once  it 
was  covered  with  a  forest  of  trees.  Again  he  flew  back  to  the 
base  of  the  mountain,  and  is  now  [that  is,  at  the  time  of  the 
Ghost  dancing]  coming  on  at  the  head  of  all  the  countless  spirit- 


I  FEAR  no  one  would  admit  that  a  book  of  this 
character  was  anywhere  near  complete  did  it  not  in- 
clude at  least  one  chapter  on  the  observances  and 
superstitions  connected  with  owls.  Nevertheless  I  doubt 
whether  I  should  not  have  taken  the  risk  of  the  reader's 
displeasure  had  I  not  been  able  to  avail  myself  of  essays 
by  several  men  who  have  handled  this  large  and  intricate 
phase  of  bird-lore  in  a  way  that  discourages  any  rivalry. 
The  Atlantic  Monthly  for  September,  1874,  contained 
an  article  by  Alexander  Young  on  "Birds  of  111  omen/' 
in  which  one  may  find  treated  not  only  the  historic  dread 
of  owls,  but  many  similar  facts  and  fears  connected  with 
ravens,  crows,  magpies,  and  their  fellow-craftsmen  in 
alleged  diabolism.  "Most  birds,"  Mr.  Young  remarks, 
"were  considered  ominous  of  good  or  evil  according  to 
the  place  and  manner  of  their  appearance.  ...  It  is 
noticeable  that  this  stigma  has  been  affixed  only  to  those 
birds  whose  appearance  or  voice  is  disagreeable,  and 
whose  habits  are  somewhat  peculiar."  The  nocturnal 
owls  perhaps  fulfil  these  conditions  as  well  as  any  bird 
could.  "Their  retired  habits,"  to  quote  Broderip,78  "the 
desolate  places  that  are  their  favorite  haunts,  their  hollow 
hootings,  fearful  shrieks,  serpent-like  hissings  and  coffin- 
maker-like  snappings,  have  helped  to  give  them  a  bad 
eminence,  more  than  overbalancing  all  the  glory  that 
Minerva  and  her  own  Athens  could  shed  around  them." 



The  little  Grecian  owl — it  is  a  foreign  replica  of  our 
own  small  screech  owl,  which,  as  a  matter  of  fact,  gurgles 
rather  melodiously  instead  of  screeching — was  well 
thought  of  in  Athens  in  its  prime,  and  was  the  special 
cognizance  of  the  wise  and  dignified  goddess  of  her 
citizens,  Pallas  Athene — Minerva  of  the  Romans.  De 
Kay,18  indeed,  reasons  her  out  an  owl-goddess,  and  it  is 
said  that  statues  of  her  have  been  found  with  an  owl's  in- 
stead of  a  human  head.  If  she  was  a  humanized  ex- 
pression for  the  moon,  as  some  interpret  her,  this  little 
lover  of  moonlight  is  most  suitable  as  her  symbol.  There- 
fore one  need  not  speculate  on  the  reputed  "wisdom"  of 
the  owl,  any  owl — said  to  be  proved  wise  by  its  being  the 
only  bird  that  looks  straight  before  it — for  that  reputa- 
tion is  merely  a  reflection  from  the  attributes  of  its 
patron,  the  stately  goddess.  Homer  makes  Athene  the 
special  protector  of  those,  chiefly  women,  engaged  in 
textile  crafts ;  and  there  is  an  old  saying  that  the  owl  was 
a  weaver's  daughter,  spinning  with  silver  threads.  When, 
therefore,  in  the  midst  of  the  momentous  naval  battle  of 
Salamis  an  owl  alighted  on  the  mast  of  the  flagship  of 
Admiral  Themistocles,  as  tradition  attests,  it  was  re- 
ceived as  an  assurance  from  Pallas  Athene  herself  that 
she  was  fighting  with  and  for  the  harassed  Greeks.  The 
bird  is  displayed  as  large  as  space  permits  on  Greek  coins 
of  the  period. 

When  the  Romans  took  over  Athene  as  Minerva  her 
owl  came  with  her,  but  its  symbolic  importance  quickly 
faded.  The  Italians  cared  nothing  for  their  little  "strix" 
— had  no  use  for  it  except  to  eat  it  or  make  it  a  lure  for 
their  bird-catching  nets,  and  even  charged  it  with  suck- 
ing the  blood  of  children ;  and  they  had  no  respect  at  all 
for  the  rest  of  its  tribe.    The  language  applied  to  them  by 


the  Latin  poets  reveals  the  detestation  and  dread  with 
which  owls  were  held  among  the  Romans.  Derogatory 
references  abound  in  books  of  the  classical  era,  and 
similar  sentiments  might  be  quoted  from  authors  down 
into  medieval  times.  Even  the  elder  Pliny,  called  a 
naturalist,  but  really  hardly  more  than  a  too  credulous 
compiler,  condemns  the  tribe  in  very  harsh  words — 
especially  the  big-horned  species;  yet  he  only  reflected 
the  general  belief  that  they  were  messengers  of  death, 
whence  everybody  trembled  if  one  was  seen  in  the  town 
or  alighted  on  any  housetop.  One  luckless  owl  that 
made  a  flying  trip  to  the  Capitol  was  caught  and  burnt, 
and  its  ashes  were  cast  into  the  Tiber.  Twice  Rome 
underwent  ceremonial  purification  on  this  account, 
whence  Butler's  jibe  in  Hitdibras: 

The  Roman  senate,  when  within 

The  city  walls  an  owl  was  seen, 

Did   cause   their   clergy   with   lustrations 

(Our  synod  calls  humiliations) 

The  round-faced  prodigy  t'  avert 

From  doing  town  and  country  hurt. 

The  deaths  of  several  Roman  emperors,  among  them 
Valentinian  and  Commodus  Antoninus,  were  presaged 
by  owls  alighting  on  their  residences,  and  it  is  recorded 
that  before  the  death  of  the  great  Augustus  an  owl  sang 
on  the  Curia. 

In  central  India  the  owl  is  now  generally  regarded  as 
a  bird  of  ill  omen.  "If  one  happens  to  perch  on  the 
house  of  a  native,  it  is  a  sign  that  one  of  his  household 
will  die,  or  some  other  misfortune  befall  him  within  a 
year.  This  can  only  be  averted  by  giving  the  house  or  its 
value  in  money  to  the  Brahmins,  or  making  extraordi- 
nary peace-offering  to  the  gods."    It  is  easy  to  calculate 


the  origin  of  that  particular  form  of  superstition.  In 
southern  India,  according  to  Thurston  (quoted  by 
Lauffer),  the  same  dread  prevails;  and  there  the  natives 
interpret  the  bird's  cries  by  their  number,  much  as  they 
did  those  of  crows.  "One  such  screech  forebodes  death ; 
two  screeches,  success  in  any  approaching  undertaking; 
three,  the  addition  by  marriage  of  a  girl  to  the  family; 
four,  a  disturbance ;  five,  that  the  hearer  will  travel.  Six 
screeches  foretell  the  coming  of  guests;  seven,  mental 
distress;  eight,  sudden  death;  and  nine  signify  favorable 
results.  The  number  nine  plays  a  great  role  in  systems 
of  divination." 

In  view  of  this  Oriental  and  Greco-Latin  history, 
which  spread  with  the  imperial  civilization  into  all  west- 
ern Europe,  and  in  view  of  the  bad  associations  of  these 
birds  in  the  Old  Testament,  where  they  are  pronounced 
"unclean,"  and  relegated  to  the  desert  as  companions  of 
a  dreadful  company  (Isaiah,  xxxiv,  n),  it  was  natural 
that  owls  should  be  regarded  with  almost  insane  fear  and 
aversion  in  the  Middle  Ages,  as  the  record  shows  they 
were.  In  Sweden  even  yet,  the  owl  is  considered  a  bird 
of  sorcery,  and  great  caution  is  necessary  in  speaking  of 
any  of  them  to  avoid  being  ensnared;  moreover  it  is 
dangerous  to  kill  one,  as  its  associates  might  avenge  its 
death.  Nuttall,79  the  English-American  ornithologist, 
notes  that  he  often  heard  the  following  couplet  when  he 
was  a  child  in  the  old  country: 

Oh  ! — o-o-o — o-o  ! 
I  was  once  a  king's  daughter,  and  sat  on  my  father's  knee, 
But  now  I'm  a  poor  hoolet,  and  hide  in  a  hollow  tree. 

This  is  explained  in  the  northern  counties  of  England 
by  a  legend  that  Pharaoh's  daughter  was  transformed 


into  an  owl,  and  when  children  hear  at  night  the  screams 
of  one  of  these  nocturnal  hunters  they  are  told  the  story 
of  its  strange  origin — but  why  Pharaoh's  daughter? 
Then  there  is  that  cryptic  "little  ode"  quoted  from  the 
memory  of  his  childhood  by  Charles  Waterton  73  in  ref- 
erence to  the  barn-owl,  and  explained  elsewhere  in  this 
book,  which  runs  thus : 

Once  I  was  a  monarch's  daughter,  and  sat  on  a  lady's  knee, 
But  now  I'm  a  nightly  rover,  banished  to  the  ivy-tree, 
Crying  hoo,  hoo,  hoo,  hoo,  hoo,  hoo,  hoo,  hoo,  hoo,  hoo, 

for  my  feet  are  cold 
Pity  me,  for  here  you  see  me,  persecuted,  poor  and  old. 

If  the  delvers  into  Indo-European  mythology  are 
right,  the  dread  of  owls  existed  long  before  the  Romans 
colonized  among  Gauls  and  Britons,  and  were  in  turn 
overrun  by  Teutonic  hordes.  It  exists  among  the  wild- 
est savages  in  every  part  of  the  world  where  owls  prowl 
with  ghostly  silence  and  stealth  and  hoot  in  the  darkness, 
startling  men's  nerves,  and  it  survives  in  all  peasantries. 
In  that  delightful  Sicilian  book  by  Mrs.  John  L. 
Heaton,80  we  have  a  narrative  of  a  journey  after  dark 
with  some  village-women.  "A  screech-owl  [citca] 
hooted.  Gra  Vainia  crossed  herself,  and  Donna  Ciccia 
muttered:  'Beautiful  Mother  of  the  Rock,  deliver  us!' 
Donna  Catina  touched  something  [a  gold  cross]  in  the 
bosom  of  her  dress."  On  another  occasion:  "The  silence 
that  fell  again  was  broken  by  the  hoot  of  the  cuca.  'Some 
one  must  die/  shuddered  Donna  Catina." 

Owls  have  always  been  regarded  as  the  familiars  of 
witches,  sometimes  bearing  them  through  the  night  on 
noiseless  wings  to  some  unholy  tryst,  sometimes  con- 
tributing materials  to  their  malignant,  magic-brewing 
recipes.     It  was  by  meddling  in  such  matters  that  the 


hero  of  that  fine  old  romance,  The  Golden  Ass  of 
Apuleius,  fell  into  his  ridiculous  and  painful  predicament. 
British  poets,  and  especially  the  dramatists  from 
Chatterton  down,  have  taken  advantage  of  the  black  re- 
pute of  owls  to  enhance  any  scene  of  horror  they  want  to 
depict,  Ben  Jonson's  Masque  of  Queens  furnished  ex- 
cellent examples;  and  my  friend  J.  E.  Harting,42  of 
London,  has  gathered  into  his  admirable  Ornithology  of 
Shakespeare  many  owl-extracts  from  the  great  master's 
play.  'The  owlet's  wing,"  Mr.  Harting  finds,  "was  an 
ingredient  in  the  cauldron  wherein  the  witches  prepared 
their  'charm  of  powerful  trouble'  (Macbeth,  iv,  i); 
and  with  the  character  assigned  to  it  by  the  ancients, 
Shakespeare,  no  doubt,  felt  that  the  introduction  of  an 
owl  in  a  dreadful  scene  of  tragedy  would  help  to  make 
the  scene  come  home  more  forcibly  to  the  people  who 
had  from  early  times  associated  its  presence  with  melan- 
choly, misfortune  and  death.  ...  Its  doleful  cry  pierces 
the  ear  of  Lady  Macbeth  while  the  murder  is  being  done : 

Hark!  Peace! 
It  was  the  owl  that  shrieked,  the  fatal  bellman 
Which  gives  stern'st  good-night. 

"And  when  the  murderer  rushes  in  immediately  after- 
wards, exclaiming  'I  have  done  the  deed.  Did  thou  not 
hear  a  noise?'  she  replies  'I  have  heard  the  owl  scream.' 
And  later  on :  The  obscure  bird  clamored  the  live-long 
night!'  .  .  .  Should  an  owl  appear  at  a  birth,  it  is  said 
to  forebode  ill  luck  to  the  infant.  King  Henry  VI,  ad- 
dressing Gloster,  says:  The  owl  shrieked  at  thy  birth, 
an  evil  sign';  while  upon  another  occasion  its  presence 
was  supposed  to  predict  a  death  or  at  least  some  dire  mis- 
hap. .  .  .  When  Richard  III  is  irritated  by  the  ill  news 


showered  thick  upon  him,  he  interrupts  the  third  mes- 
senger with  'Out  on  ye,  Owls!  Nothing  but  songs  of 
death/  M 

It  is  not  surprising  on  turning  to  the  medieval  phar- 
macopoeia, where  there  was  quite  as  much  magic  as 
medicine,  that  the  owl  was  of  great  potency  in  prescrip- 
tions. "Thus  the  feet  of  the  bubo,  burnt  with  hard 
plumbago,  was  held  to  be  a  help  against  serpents.  If  the 
heart  of  the  bird  was  placed  on  the  left  breast  of  a  sleep- 
ing beauty,  it  made  her  tell  all  her  secrets:  but  the 
warrior  who  carried  it  was  strengthened  in  battle/'  A! 
modern  relic  of  this  bit  of  superstitious  therapeutics  was 
found  by  me  in  The  Long  Hidden  Frietid,  a.  little  book 
printed  at  Carlisle,  Pennsylvania,  in  1863,  which  was  a 
crude  translation  by  George  Homan  of  a  German  book 
published  at  Reading,  Penn.,  in  1819.  It  consists  of  a 
long  series  of  remedies  and  magic  arts  to  be  followed, 
and  which  were  actually  in  use  in  that  region  in  cases  of 
disease.  Some  of  them  introduced  birds,  one  of  which 
is  reminiscent  of  the  "sleeping  beauty"  mentioned  a 
moment  ago,  and  reads  thus:  "If  you  lay  the  heart  and 
right  foot  of  a  barn-owl  on  one  who  is  asleep,  he  will 
answer  whatever  you  ask  him,  and  tell  what  he  has  done." 
This  should  be  known  to  our  chiefs  of  police,  whose  de- 
tectives appear  to  be  wasting  much  time  in  applying  the 
extractive  process  called  the  Third  Degree. 

The  owl  tribe,  among  the  most  innocent  and  service- 
able, in  its  relation  to  mankind,  of  avian  groups,  has  been 
as  outrageously  slandered  south  of  the  Mediterranean  as 
north  of  it.  "The  inhabitants  of  Tangier,"  as  Colonel  Irby 
tells  us  81  in  his  book  on  the  ornithology  of  Gibraltar,  con- 
sider the  barn-owls,  numerous  there,  "the  clairvoyant 
friends  of  the  Devil." 


The  Jews  believe  that  their  cry  causes  the  death  of 
young  children;  so,  in  order  to  prevent  this,  they  pour 
a  vessel  of  water  out  into  the  courtyard  every  time  they 
hear  the  cry  of  one  of  these  owls,  the  idea  being  that 
thus  they  will  distract  the  bird's  attention,  and  the 
infant  will  escape  the  intended  malice.  The  Arabs  be- 
lieve these  owls  can  cause  all  kinds  of  evil  to  old  as 
well  as  young,  but  they  content  themselves  with  cursing 
the  bird  whenever  it  is  seen  or  heard.  The  Moham- 
medans say :  "When  these  birds  cry  they  are  only  curs- 
ing in  their  own  language ;  but  their  malediction  is  harm- 
less unless  they  know  the  name  of  the  individual  to 
whom  they  wish  evil,  or  unless  they  have  the  malignity 
to  point  out  that  person  when  passing  him.  As  the  Devil 
sleeps  but  little  when  there  is  evil  work  to  be  done,  he 
would  infallibly  execute  the  commands  of  his  favorite, 
if  one  did  not,  by  cursing  him,  thus  guard  against  the 
power  of  that  enemy." 

It  is  a  pleasure  to  have  this  long  record  of  misde- 
meanors and  diabolism  relieved  by  at  least  one  good  deed 
in  history.  Having  read  in  Watters's  57  curious  little 
volume  that  the  Tartars  attribute  to  the  barn-owl  the 
saving  of  the  life  of  their  great  commander  Genghis 
Khan,  I  searched  far  and  wide  for  the  particulars  of  what 
seemed  likely  to  be  an  entertaining  incident,  and  at  last 
I  came  upon  the  facts  in  the  eleventh  volume  of  Purchase 
His  Pilgrims.  It  appears  that  Changius  Can,  as  the  old 
historian  spells  it,  had  his  horse  shot  under  him  in  a 
certain  fight  that  was  going  against  him,  and  he  ran  and 
hid  in  a  thicket  of  shrubs — which  is  a  novel  view  of  the 
"Tartar  Terror."  "Whither,  when  the  enemies  were 
returned,  with  purpose  to  spoil  the  dead  Carkass,  and  to 
seek  out  such  as  were  hidden,  it  happened  that  an  Owle 


came  and  sate  upon  those  little  trees  or  shrubs  which  he 
had  chose  for  his  court,  which  when  they  had  perceived 
they  sought  no  further  in  that  place,  supposing  that  the 
said  bird  would  not  have  sat  there  if  any  man  had  been 
hidden  underneath.,, 

A  very  similar  legend  in  China  accounts  for  the  use  of 
peacock  plumes  as  insignia  of  rank  and  is  related  as  fol- 
lows by  Katherine  M.  Ball 68:  In  the  Chin  dynasty  a  de- 
feated general  took  refuge  in  a  forest  where  there  were 
many  peacocks.  When  the  pursuing  forces  arrived,  and 
found  the  fowl  so  quiet  and  undisturbed,  they  concluded 
that  no  one  could  possibly  have  come  that  way,  and  forth- 
with abandoned  the  search.  The  general — who  later  be- 
came the  ancestor  of  five  kings — was  thus  able  to  escape, 
and  so  grateful  was  he  that  later,  when  he  came  into 
power,  he  instituted  the  custom  of  conferring  a  peacock 
feather  as  an  honor  for  the  achievement  of  bravery  in 

Japan  has  a  similar  mythical  legend. 

Frenchmen  call  the  common  brown  owl  of  Europe 
chouette;  and  when  in  1793  disgruntled  smugglers  and 
Royalist  soldiers  were  carrying  on  guerrilla  warfare  in 
Brittany  and  Poitu  against  the  new  order  of  things,  they 
came  to  be  called  Chouans,  "owls,"  from  the  signal-cries 
they  made  to  one  another  in  their  nocturnal  forays  as 
appears  so  often  in  Balzac's  novel  The  Chouans. 

Not  much  of  this  spookish  and  legendary  lore  seems 
to  have  been  imported  into  the  United  States,  or  else  it 
has  disappeared,  except  that  which  still  lingers  among 
the  superstitious  negroes  of  the  South.  A  writer  in  one 
of  the  early  issues  of  The  Cosmopolitan  (magazine)  re- 
lated that  to  the  black  folks  of  the  Cotton  Belt  forty  years 
or  so  ago  the  quavering  "song"  of  our  small  mottled 


screech-owl  spoke  of  coming  death;  but  the  birds  were 
considered  sensitive  to  countercharms  put  upon  them 
from  within  the  house  over  which  they  crooned  their 
tremulous  monologue.  "Jest  Jam  de  shevel  inter  de  fire, 
en  time  hit  git  red-hot  dee  '11  hesh  dere  shiverin' !"  If 
you  don't  like  that,  sprinkle  salt  on  the  blaze,  or  turn  a  pair 
of  shoes  up  on  the  floor  with  the  soles  against  the  wall. 
"Perhaps  this  faint  semblance  to  a  laid-out  corpse  will 
pacify  the  hungry  spirit;  the  charm  certainly,  according 
to  negro  belief,  will  silence  its  harsh-voiced  emissary." 

The  darkies  warn  you  that  you  must  turn  back  on 
any  journey  you  are  making  if  a  screech-owl  cries  above 
you.  An  old  "hoot-owl,"  however,  may  foretell  either 
good  or  bad  fortune  according  as  its  three  hoots  are 
given  on  the  right  or  left  hand.  This  is  an  unfailing  sign, 
and  is  especially  heeded  in  'coon  or  'possum  hunting, 
at  night,  when  three  hoots  from  the  left  will  send  any 
hunter  home  hopeless. 

All  these  indications  and  charms  bear  the  familiar 
marks  of  the  Old  World  fears  and  formulas,  but  it  is 
surprising  to  meet  them  on  the  fields  of  Dixie-land. 

Owls  were  too  well  understood  by  our  native  redmen 
to  be  regarded  with  much  superstition,  and  the  smaller 
ones  were  well  liked.  Prince  Maximilian  mentions  in 
his  Travels  (about  1836)  that  owls  were  kept  in  the 
lodges  of  the  Mandans  and  Minnitarees,  who  lived  in 
permanent  villages  in  the  upper  Missouri  Valley,  and 
were  regarded  as  "soothsayers,"  but  I  think  they  were  no 
more  than  pets,  as  they  are  now  in  Zufii  houses.  Yet  in 
the  American  Museum  of  Natural  History  in  New  York 
is  a  stuffed  owl  mounted  on  a  stick,  labeled  as  an  object 
"worshipped"  by  the  sorcerers  among  the  Menominee 
Indians    (eastern  Wisconsin),    "who   believe   they   can 


assume  the  shape  of  an  owl,  and  can  in  this  disguise 
attack  and  kill  their  enemies" — that  is,  they  try  to  make 
others  believe  so.  The  owl  is  chosen  for  their  disguise,  of 
course,  because  it  typifies  the  sly,  unseen  method  of  attack 
in  darkness  with  which  they  sought  to  terrify  the  people. 

Mr.  Stuart  Culin  tells  me  that  in  Zufii  owls,  of  which 
four  kinds  are  recognized  by  names,  are  not  considered 
sacred,  and  are  killed  for  their  feathers,  which  are  used 
on  ceremonial  masks,  and,  once  a  year,  to  decorate  long 
prayer-sticks.  The  people,  he  says,  think  that  a  certain  big 
gray  owl  lives  in  a  house  like  a  man,  and  if  any  Indian 
goes  to  its  house  and  the  owl  looks  at  him  he  will  surely 
die.  When  the  headmen  go  out  at  night  for  some  cere- 
mony, and  this  owl  is  heard,  it  is  a  sign  that  rain  will 
come  very  soon.  This  large  owl  and  the  small  burrowing- 
owl  are  kept  in  houses  as  pets.  Children  are  afraid  of 
them,  and  they  are  utilized  by  parents  to  make  the 
youngsters  behave  themselves. 

The    Ashochimi,    a   mountain   tribe    of    Californian 
Indians  now  extinct,  as  described  by  Powers, 19  feared 
certain  hawks  and  owls,  regarding  them  as  malignant 
spirits  which  they  must  conciliate  by  offerings,  and  by 
wearing  mantles  of  feathers,  thus: 

When  a  great  white  owl  alights  near  a  village  in  the  evening, 
and  hoots  loudly,  the  headman  at  once  assembles  all  his  warriors 
in  council  to  determine  whether  Mr  Strix  demands  a  life  or 
only  money.  ...  If  they  incline  to  believe  that  he  demands  a 
life,  someone  in  the  village  is  doomed  and  will  speedily  die. 
But  they  generally  vote  that  he  can  be  placated  by  an  offering, 
and  immediately  set  out  a  quantity  of  shell-money  and  pinole, 
whereupon  the  valorous  trenchermen  fall  to  eat  the  pinole  them- 
selves, and  in  the  morning  the  headman  decorates  himself  with 
owl-feathers,  carries  out  the  shell-money  with  solemn  for- 
mality and  flings  it  into  the  air  under  the  tree  where  the  owl 



A  somewhat  more  spiritual  view  was  taken  by  the 
Pimas  of  old  times  in  the  southwestern  deserts.  Their 
ideas  of  the  destiny  of  the  human  soul  varied,  but  one 
theory  was  that  at  death  the  soul  passed  into  the  body  of 
an  owl.  "Should  an  owl  happen  to  be  hooting  at  the  time 
of  a  death,  it  was  believed  that  it  was  waiting  for  the 
soul.  .  .  .  Owl-feathers  were  always  given  to  a  dying 
person.  They  were  kept  in  a  long,  rectangular  box  or 
basket  of  maguey  leaf.  If  the  family  had  no  owl-feathers 
at  hand  they  sent  to  the  medicine-man  who  always  kept 
them.  If  possible,  the  feathers  were  taken  from  a  living 
bird  when  collected;  the  owl  might  then  be  set  free  or 
killed."  83 


WE  are  pretty  sure  to  hear  of  the  phenix  every 
time  a  tailor  or  soap-maker  announces  that  he 
will  rebuild  his  shop  after  it  has  been  burned; 
and  its  picture  is  a  favorite  with  the  advertising  de- 
partment of  fire-insurance  companies.  The  world  first 
learned  of  this  remarkable  fowl  when  Herodotus  brought 
back  to  Greece  his  wonder-tales  from  Egypt,  some  400 
years  before  Cleopatra  made  so  much  trouble  by  mixing 
love  and  politics.  It  will  be  well  to  quote  in  full  the 
account  by  the  great  Greek  traveller  as  it  is  found  in  the 
translation  by  Laurent: 

There  is  another  sacred  bird,  called  the  "phenix,"  which  I 
myself  never  saw  except  in  a  picture,  for  it  seldom  makes  its 
appearance  among  the  Egyptians — only  every  five-hundred 
years,  according  to  the  people  of  Heliopolis.  They  state  that 
he  comes  on  the  death  of  his  sire.  If  at  all  like  his  picture, 
this  bird  may  be  thus  described  in  size  and  shape.  Some  of 
his  feathers  are  of  the  color  of  gold;  others  are  red.  In  out- 
line he  is  exceedingly  similar  to  the  eagle,  and  in  size  also. 
This  bird  is  said  to  display  an  ingenuity  which  to  me  does  not 
appear  credible:  he  is  represented  as  coming  out  of  Arabia, 
and  bringing  with  him  his  father  to  the  temple  of  the  Sun, 
embalmed  in  myrrh,  and  there  burying  him.  The  manner  in 
which  this  is  done  is  as  follows:  In  the  first  place  he  sticks  to- 
gether an  egg  of  myrrh,  as  much  as  he  can  carry,  and  then 
tries  if  he  can  bear  the  burden.  This  experiment  achieved,  he 
accordingly  scoops  out  the  egg  sufficiently  to  deposit  his  sire 
within.  He  next  fills  with  fresh  myrrh  the  opening  in  the  egg 
by  which  the  body  was  inclosed;  thus  the  whole  mass  contain- 



ing  the  carcase  is  still  of  the  same  weight.  Having  thus  com- 
pleted the  embalming,  he  transports  him  into  Egypt  and  to  the 
temple  of  the  Sun.     (Euterpe,  Book  II.) 

Herodotus  seems  to  have  been  most  interested  in  the 
odorous  embalming,  quaintly  referred  to  in  a  17th- 
century  song — 

Have  you  e'r  smelt  what  Chymick  Skill 
From  Rose  or  Amber  doth  distill? 
Have  you  been  near  that  Sacrifice 
The  Phoenix  makes  before  she  dies? 

And  it  will  be  noticed  that  this  observant  reporter  says 
nothing  of  the  quality  that  has  given  the  bird  its  present 
popularity  as  a  type  of  recovery  from  disaster — its  ability 
to  "rise  from  its  ashes,"  which,  indeed,  appears  to  have 
been  a  later  conception. 

Greeks  of  that  day  probably  accepted  this  story  from 
Herodotus  without  much  demur  or  criticism,  for  they 
had  their  own  traditions  of  wonderful  birds — the 
Stymphalids,  for  example.  These  were  gigantic  and 
terrible  fowls  that  lived  along  the  river  Stymphalus,  in 
northern  Arcadia — a  region  of  savage  mountains  that 
the  Athenians  knew  little  about.  They  were  believed  to 
be  man-eating  monsters  with  claws,  wings,  and  beaks  of 
brass,  and  feathers  which  they  shot  out  like  arrows. 
"Heracles  scared  them  with  a  brazen  rattle,  and  succeeded 
in  killing  part  and  in  driving  away  the  rest,  which  settled 
on  the  island  of  Artias  in  the  Black  Sea,  to  be  frightened 
away  after  a  hard  fight  by  the  Argonauts."  So  Seyfert 
summarizes  their  history;  and  an  illustration  on  an  an- 
tique vase  in  the  Metropolitan  Museum  of  Art  shows  a 
flock  of  them  looking  much  like  pelicans. 

Pausanias  visited  the  curious  River  Stymphalus  and 


found  it  rising  in  a  spring,  flowing  into  a  marsh,  and  then 
disappearing  underground — a  good  setting  for  strange 
happenings,  and  he  refers  to  the  legend  in  his  usual 
bantering  way,  thus: 

"There  is  a  tradition  that  some  man-eating  birds  lived  on  its 
banks,  whom  Hercules  is  said  to  have  killed  with  his  arrows. 
.  .  .  The  desert  of  Arabia  has  among  other  monsters  some  birds 
called  Stymphalides,  who  are  as  savage  to  men  as  lions  or 
leopards.  They  attack  those  who  come  to  capture  them,  and 
wound  them  with  their  beaks  and  kill  them.  They  pierce 
through  coats  of  mail  that  men  wear,  and  if  they  put  on  thick 
robes  of  mat  the  beaks  of  these  birds  penetrate  them  too.  .  .  . 
Their  size  is  about  that  of  cranes  and  they  are  like  storks, 
but  their  beaks  are  stronger  and  not  crooked  like  those  of  storks. 
If  there  have  been  in  all  time  these  stymphalides  like  hawks  and 
eagles,  then  they  are  probably  of  Arabian  origin." 

The  Greeks  knew  also  of  half-human  Harpies,  of  web- 
footed  Sirens,  of  the  Birds  of  Seleucia,  and  of  various 
other  ornithological  monstrosities,  so  that  the  tale  of  an 
Egyptian  one  was  easily  acceptable  to  their  minds.  The 
ugliest  of  the  ugly  flock  were  the  Harpies,  bird-women, 
on  whom  the  ancients  expended  the  direst  pigments  of 
their  imagination,  and  whom  Dante  makes  inhabitants  of 
the  gnarled  and  gloomy  groves  wherein  suicides  are  con- 
demned to  suffer  in  the  nether  world — 

There  do  the  hideous  Harpies  make  their  nests 
Who  chased  the  Trojans  from  the  Strophades 
With  sad  announcement  of  impending  doom; 
Broad  wings  have  they,  and  necks  and  faces  human, 
And  feet  with  claws,  and  their  great  bellies  fledged 
They  make  lament  upon  the  wondrous  trees. 

The  Romans  liked  Herodotus  and  his  story  as  well  as 
they  pleased  the  Greeks,  and  Pliny  heard  or  invented 


additional  particulars.  He  insists  that  only  one  phenix 
exists  at  a  time,  clothed  in  gorgeous  feathers  and  carrying 
a  plumed  head ;  and  at  the  close  of  its  long  life  it  builds 
a  nest  of  frankincense  and  cassia,  on  which  it  dies. 
From  the  corpse,  as  Pliny  asserts,  is  generated  a  worm 
that  develops  into  another  phenix.  This  young  phenix, 
when  it  has  grown  large  enough,  makes  it  its  first  duty  to 
lay  its  father's  body  on  the  altar  in  Heliopolis;  and 
Tacitus  adds  that  its  body  is  burned  there.  The  implica- 
tion in  most  accounts  is  that  the  bird  is  male  (the 
Egyptians  are  said  to  have  believed  all  vultures  female), 
and  doubtless  the  whole  conception  is  a  primitive  phase 
of  the  nature-worship  out  of  which  developed  the  more 
formal  Osiris-legend. 

But  the  picture  has  many  variants.  One  is  that  the 
phenix  subsists  on  air  for  500  years,  at  the  end  of  which, 
lading  its  wings  with  perfumed  gums  gathered  on  Mt. 
Lebanon  (!)  it  flies  to  Heliopolis  and  is  burned — itself 
now,  not  its  parent — into  fragrant  ashes  on  the  altar  of 
the  Sun  temple.  On  the  next  morning  appears  a  young 
phenix  already  feathered,  and  on  the  third  day,  its  pinions 
fully  grown,  it  salutes  the  priest  and  flies  away.  Here 
we  come  to  the  best  remembered  feature  of  the  mystery, 
caught  and  kept  alive  for  us  by  the  poets,  such  as  John 
Lyly,49  who  in  1591  reminded  the  world  that — 

There  is  a  bird  that  builds  its  neast  with  spice, 
And  built,  the  Sun  to  ashes  doth  her  burne, 

Out  of  whose  sinders  doth  another  rise, 

And  she  by  scorching  beames  to  dust  doth  turne. 

De  Kay 18  discourses  on  these  notions  in  his  Bird  Gods: 

"In  the  oldest  tombs,  discovered  lately  on  the  upper  Nile  by 
Jacques   de   Morgan   and   others,   the   phenix   is   seen    rising   from 


a  bed  of  flames,  which  may  well  mean  the  funeral  pyre  of  the 
defunct.  The  inscriptions  in  question  are  so  early  that  they 
belong  to  a  period  when  the  ceremonial  of  the  mummy  had  not 
become  universal  in  Egypt,  and  the  conquerors  of  Egypt,  prob- 
ably a  swarm  of  metal-using  foreigners  from  the  valley  of  the 
Euphrates,  who  crossed  from  Arabia  and  the  Red  Sea,  were 
still  burning  the  bodies  of  their  chiefs  and  kings.  The  phenix 
of  these  inscriptions  may  indicate  the  soul  of  the  departed  rising 
from  its  earthly  dross  as  the  soul  of  Herakles,  according  to  the 
much  later  legend  in  its  Greek  form,  rose  from  his  funeral 
pyre  to  join  the  gods  of  Olympus." 

Now,  whether  or  not  the  priests  of  Heliopolis  en- 
couraged their  worshippers  to  believe  that  such  a  creature 
really  existed,  they  themselves  knew  well  that  it  was  a 
mere  symbol  of  the  sun;  and  it  is  easy  to  identify  it  with 
the  bird  "bennu"  spoken  of  in  the  Book  of  the  Dead  and 
other  Egyptian  sacred  texts,  which  unquestionably  was 
a  picturesque  representative  of  the  sun,  rising,  pursuing 
its  course,  and  at  regular  intervals  expiring  in  the  fires  of 
sunset,  then  renewing  itself  on  the  morrow  in  the  flames 
of  sunrise  over  Arabia.  Plentiful  evidence  that  this  was 
perfectly  understood  in  Greece  and  Italy  of  the  classic 
age  may  be  read  in  the  works  of  their  essayists  and  poets. 
Claudian  (365-408),  wrote,  and  Tickell,  a  British  poet, 
translated  into  verse,  a  long  poem  on  the  phenix. 
Petrarch  carried  their  wisdom  onward  when  he  declared 
there  could  be  only  one  phenix  at  a  time  because  there 
was  only  one  sun. 

When  the  Arabs  succeeded  the  Romans  in  the  Nile 
Provinces  they  picked  up  from  the  people  remnants  of  the 
legend,  and  confused  it  with  their  own  ancient  belief 
in  a  creature  that  resisted  burning,  by  whose  existence 
they  accounted  for  the  incombustible  property  of  asbestos, 
a  mineral  known  to  them,  but  the  origin  of  which  was  a 
mystery.    It  came  from  the  Orient,  and  some  said  it  was 


a  vegetable  product,  others  the  hair  of  a  rat-like  animal: 
the  western  Arabs,  however,  mostly  believed  it  to  be  the 
plumage  of  a  bird,  so  that  naturally  they  identified  it  with 
the  fire-loving  phenix.  Arabian  authors  of  the  ioth  cen- 
tury and  onward  describe  this  bird,  under  the  Greek  name 
"salamandra,"  as  dwelling  in  India,  where  it  lays  its  eggs 
and  produces  young  in  fire.  Sashes,  they  say,  are  made 
of  its  feathers,  and  when  one  of  them  becomes  soiled  it 
is  thrown  on  a  fire,  and  comes  out  whole,  but  clean. 

This  is  an  excellent  example  of  the  mingling  of  fact 
and  fancy  by  which  a  student  of  these  old  matters  is  con- 
stantly perplexed.  It  is  probable  that  small  woven 
articles  had  long  been  known  to  the  Arabs  and  Moors 
as  Eastern  curiosities,  for  the  people  of  southern  China 
since  very  ancient  times  had  been  collecting  and  preparing 
fibrous  asbestos,  and  weaving  it  into  fire-proof  cloth. 
Such  fabrics  had,  no  doubt,  a  rough,  fuzzy  surface,  not 
unlike  fur  or  the  down  of  birds,  and  might  easily  be  sup- 
posed to  be  the  latter.  Hence  the  assertion  that  asbestos 
was  the  skin  of  a  bird  indestructible  by  fire,  the  identifica- 
tion of  the  phenix  with  the  salamandra  (as  a  bird — it  had 
other  legendary  forms),  and  the  trade-name  "samand" 
given  to  asbestos  cloth  when  the  Arabs  themselves  began 
to  manufacture  and  sell  it.  So  our  proverbial  idea  of  the 
salamander  goes  back  to  a  remote  antiquity;  but  how  it 
came  to  be  represented  among  us  as  a  newt  instead  of  a 
bird  belongs  to  another  book. 

Meanwhile  on  the  northern  shore  of  the  Mediterranean, 
where  the  legend  of  the  phenix  was  popular,  it  had  been 
introduced  into  Christianity  as  a  symbol,  as  we  know 
from  memorial  sculpture,  and  from  the  writings  of  St. 
Clement,  who  was  the  second  pope  after  Peter.  Its  special 
meaning  was  immortality,  which  in  that  period  meant  the 



physical  resurrection  of  the  dead ;  and  the  peacock  came 
to  be  used  in  the  same  sense,  as  representing,  if  not 
virtually  merged  with,  the  phenix.  The  image  in  men's 
minds  at  that  time  appears  to  have  been  that  of  an  eagle, 
a  bird  closely  identified  with  the  sun,  clothed  in  the 
plumage  of  the  peacock,  another  sun-bird  (as  representa- 
tive of  the  gorgeous  clouds  at  sunset)  ;  and  the  very  name 
confirms  these  solar  associations,  for  our  "phenix"  is  the 
Greek  word  phoinix,  crimson  red.  How  large  a  place  the 
peacock  in  this  aspect  fills  in  the  art  and  mythology  of 
China  and  Japan  appears  in  Chapter  VII. 

Hulme  informs  us  that  Philippe  de  Thaum  writes  in 
his  Bestiary  of  the  mystic  bird:  "Know  this  is  its  lot;  it 
comes  to  death  of  its  own  will,  and  from  death  it  comes 
to  life:  hear  what  it  signifies.  Phoenix  signifies  Jesus, 
Son  of  Mary,  that  he  had  power  to  die  of  his  own  will, 
and  from  death  come  to  life.  Phoenix  signifies  that  to 
save  his  people  he  chose  to  suffer  upon  the  cross."  "God 
knew  men's  unbelief,"  St.  Cyril  laments,  "and  therefore 
provided  this  bird  as  evidence  of  the  Resurrection."  St. 
Ambrose  also  declares  that  "the  bird  of  Arabia  teaches 
us,  by  its  example,  to  believe  in  the  Resurrection."  Pas- 
sages of  like  tenor  might  be  quoted  from  Tertullian  and 
other  expositors  of  the  early  Christian  church,  all  show- 
ing the  most  unsuspicious  faith  in  the  real  existence  of 
such  a  bird. 

The  symbolic  connection  of  this  fabulous  creature  with 
the  idea  of  immortality  may  have  been  an  inheritance 
from  Jewish  traditions.  According  to  the  Talmud  Eve, 
after  eating  the  terrible  fruit  in  the  Garden  of  Eden, 
tried  to  force  it,  and  its  consequences,  on  all  the  animals, 
but  the  bird  "chol"  (the  phenix)  would  not  eat,  but  flew 
away  from  temptation,  and  thus  preserved  its  original 


gift  of  perpetual  life.  "And  now  the  phenix  .  .  .  lives  a 
thousand  years,  then  shrivels  up  till  it  is  the  size  of  an 
tgg,  and  then  from  himself  emerges  beautiful  again." 
In  the  Middle  Ages  this  deathless  bird  was  supposed  to 
inhabit  the  sacred  garden  of  the  Earthly  Paradise. 

Peacocks  carved  on  early  Christian  sarcophagi  are 
perched  on  a  palm  tree  (the  conventional  sign  of  martyr- 
dom in  primitive  Christian  iconography),  and  hence  elo- 
quent of  that  rapturous  belief  in  immortality  character- 
istic of  the  catacombs,  as  Mrs.  Jenner  expresses  it.  Repre- 
sentations of  the  bird  rising  from  a  flaming  nest  and 
ascending  toward  the  sun  are  less  common,  but  do  occur 
in  medieval  heraldry,  by  which  pictorial  path,  it  is  prob- 
able, the  notion  has  come  down  to  our  own  day  and  be- 
come the  cognizance  of  one  of  the  oldest  American  in- 
surance companies. 

The  association  with  the  palm  mentioned  above  re- 
calls another  line  of  legendry,  for  some  etymologists  say 
that  the  name  "phenix"  should  be  so  written  (not 
phoenix),  and  that  it  is  the  older  name  of  the  date-palm. 
This  tree  was  regarded  in  ancient  Egypt  as  the  emblem 
of  triumph,  whence,  perhaps,  our  modern  symbolic  use 
of  its  fronds;  and  Pliny  was  informed  that  "in  Arabia 
the  phenix  nested  only  on  a  palm,"  and  that  "the  said 
bird  died  with  the  tree  and  revived  of  itself  as  the  tree 
sprang  again." 

Now,  Arabic  authors  of  the  Middle  Ages  had  much 
to  say  of  a  mythical  bird,  "anka,"  that  lived  1700  years; 
and  they  explained  that  when  a  young  anka  grows  up  if  it 
be  a  female  the  old  female  burns  herself,  and  if  it  be  a  male 
the  old  male  does  so.  This  is  very  phenix-like,  but  the  anka 
is  distinguished  by  huge  size,  the  Arabic  writer  Kazweenee, 
as  quoted  by  Payne,"  describing  the  anka  as  the  greatest 


of  birds.  "It  carries  off  the  elephant,"  he  says,  "as  the 
cat  carries  off  the  mouse" ;  and  he  relates  that  in  conse- 
quence of  its  kidnapping  a  bride  God,  at  the  prayer  of  the 
prophet  Handhallah,  "banished  it  to  an  island  in  the  cir- 
cumambient ocean  unvisited  by  men  under  the  equinoctial 

I  find  in  Miss  Costello's  Rose  Garden  of  Persia  88  some 
interesting  notes  quoted  from  M.  Garcin  de  Tassy,  rela- 
tive to  the  anka,  which,  De  Tassy  says,  has  become  a 
proverbial  symbol  in  Persia  for  something  spoken  of 
but  not  seen — and  not  likely  to  be !  Here  he  seems  to  be 
using  the  Arabic  name  for  the  bird  the  Persians  call 
"simurgh,"  the  signification  of  which,  as  Professor 
A.  V.  W.  Jackson  tells  me,  is  "the  mythical,"  and  which 
is  derived  from  the  avestan  word  for  "eagle" — another 
link  in  our  chain.    De  Tassy  explains: 

It  [the  anka]  is  known  only  by  name,  and  is  so  called  from 
having  a  white  line  round  the  neck  like  a  collar;  some  say  be- 
cause of  the  length  of  the  neck.  ...  It  is  said  that  the  inhabi- 
tants of  the  city  of  Res.  .  .  .  had  in  their  country  a  mountain 
called  Demaj,  a  mile  high.  There  came  a  very  large  bird  with 
a  very  long  neck,  of  beautiful  and  divers  colors.  This  bird  was 
accustomed  to  pounce  on  all  the  birds  of  that  mountain,  and 
eat  them  up.  One  day  he  was  hungry  and  birds  were  scarce, 
so  he  pounced  on  a  child  and  carried  it  off.  He  is  called  anka- 
mogreb  because  he  carries  off  the  prey  he  seizes.  .  .  .  Soon 
after  this  he  was  struck  by  a  thunderbolt. 

Mohammed  is  reported  to  have  said  that  at  the  time  of 
Moses  God  created  a  female  bird  called  anka;  it  had  eight 
wings  like  the  seraphs,  and  bore  the  figure  of  a  man.  God  gave 
it  a  portion  of  every  thing,  and  afterwards  created  it  a  male. 
Then  God  made  a  revelation  to  Moses  that  he  had  created  two 
extraordinary  birds,  and  had  assigned  for  their  nourishment 
the  wHd  beasts  around  Jerusalem.  But  the  species  multiplied, 
and  when  Moses  was  dead  they  went  to  the  land  of  Nejd  and 
Hijaz,  and  never  ceased  to  devour  the  wild  beasts  and  to  carry 
off  children  till  the  time  when  Khaled,  son  of  Senan  Abasi, 


was  Prophet,  between  the  time  of  Christ  and  Mohammed.  It 
was  then  that  these  birds  were  complained  of.  Khaled  in- 
voked God,  and  God  did  not  permit  them  to  multiply,  and  their 
race  became  extinct. 

This  characteristic  Bedouin  camp-fire  novelette  re- 
minds us  at  once  of  the  famous  roc,  or  "rukh,"  to  adopt 
the  more  correct  spelling,  with  which  we  are  familiar 
from  the  story  in  the  Arabian  Nights  of  Sinbad  the 
Sailor.  Let  me  quote  it  succinctly  from  Payne's  edition.87 
Sinbad  had  sailed  on  a  commercial  venture  from  his 
home  in  Basra,  a  port  on  the  Persian  Gulf,  and  the  ship 
had  stopped  at  a  very  pleasant  island,  situation  un- 
recorded. Sinbad  went  ashore  with  others,  wandered  in 
the  lovely  woods,  fell  asleep,  and  awoke  to  find  the  ship 
gone  and  himself  the  only  person  on  the  island.  As  he 
was  exploring  the  place  rather  timidly  he  came  to  a  great 
shining  dome,  but  could  see  no  doorway.  "As  I  stood," 
he  relates,  "casting  about  how  to  gain  an  entrance,  the 
sun  was  suddenly  hidden  from  me  and  the  air  became 
dark.  .  .    » 

So  I  marvelled  at  this,  and  lifting  my  head  looked  steadfastly 
at  the  sun,  when  I  saw  that  what  I  had  taken  for  a  cloud  was 
none  other  than  an  enormous  bird  whose  outspread  wings,  as  it 
flew  through  the  air,  obscured  the  sun  and  veiled  it  from  the 
island.  At  this  sight  my  wonder  redoubled,  and  I  bethought 
me  of  a  story  I  had  heard  aforetime  of  pilgrims  and  travellers, 
how  in  certain  islands  dwells  a  huge  bird,  called  the  roc,  which 
feeds  its  young  on  elephants,  and  was  assured  that  the  dome 
aforesaid  was  none  other  than  one  of  its  eggs.  As  I  looked 
.  .  .  the  bird  alighted  on  the  egg  and  brooded  over  it,  with  its 
wings  covering  it  and  its  legs  spread  out  behind  it  on  the  ground, 
and  in  this  posture  it  fell  asleep,  glory  be  to  Him  who  sleepeth 

When  I  saw  this  I  arose,  and  unwinding  the  linen  of  my  tur- 
ban twisted  it  into  a  rope  with  which  I  girt  my  middle,  and 
bound  myself  fast  to  his  feet. 


SinbacTs  purpose  was  to  get  himself  carried  away  to 
some  better  place,  but  when,  next  morning,  the  roc  did 
bear  him  aloft  and  afar,  and  finally  alighted,  the  sailor 
found  himself  in  a  horrid  desert.  After  many  further 
adventures  and  voyages  Sinbad  revisits  his  island  yet 
does  not  recognize  it  until  the  men  with  whom  he  is  stroll- 
ing bade  him  look  at  a  great  dome.  Not  knowing  what 
it  was  they  broke  it  open  with  stones,  ''whereupon  much 
water  ran  out  of  it,  and  the  young  roc  appeared  within; 
so  they  pulled  it  forth  of  the  shell  and  killed  it,  and  took 
of  it  great  store  of  meat."  Dreadful  misfortune  fol- 
lowed this  inconsiderate  act. 

This  was  a  well-known  Arabic  wonder-tale.  The  au- 
thor of  one  of  their  popular  old  books  of  "marvels," 
several  of  which  exist,  tells  almost  exactly  Sinbad's  story 
as  happening  to  himself,  and  at  least  two  other  Arabic 
works  are  said  to  contain  the  tale  with  picturesque  varia- 
tions. In  later  times  the  home  of  the  monster  was 
placed  in  Madagascar.  Marco  Polo,  the  adventurous 
Italian,  who  in  the  13th  century  wandered  overland  to 
China,  and  whose  Travels89  are  a  fine  mixture  of  fact 
and  fancy,  had  a  fair  idea  of  where  Madagascar  was,  and 
recorded  much  that  he  was  told  about  it — mostly  errone- 
ous. He  relates  that  the  people  of  that  island  report 
"That  at  a  certain  season  of  the  year  .  .  .  the  rukh 
makes  its  appearance  from  the  southern  region.  .  .  . 
Persons  who  have  seen  this  bird  assert  that  when  the 
wings  are  spread  they  measure  sixteen  paces  in  extent." 
Marco  says  that  he  heard  that  the  agents  of  the  Grand 
Khan  took  to  him  a  feather  ninety  spans  long.  It  is  ex- 
plained in  Yule's  edition  of  Polo's  Travels  that  the  sup- 
posed roc's  feather  was  one  of  the  gigantic  fronds  of  the 
raphia  palm  "very  like  a  quill  in  form." 


Such  wonder-tales  have  a  truly  phenixlike  quality  of 
indestructibility.  As  late  as  the  time  of  Charles  I  of  Eng- 
land there  lived  in  Lambeth,  on  the  Surrey  side  of 
London,  John  Tradescant,  renowned  as  traveller  and 
florist,  who  accumulated  an  extensive  "physic-garden" 
and  museum  of  antiquities  and  curiosities.  He  was  a 
man  of  science,  but  to  satisfy  the  popular  taste  of  the 
time,  as  Pennant  explains,  his  museum  contained  a  feather 
alleged  to  be  of  the  dragon,  and  another  of  the  griffin. 
"You  might  have  found  here  two  feathers  of  the  tail 
of  the  phoenix,  and  the  claw  of  the  rukh,  a  bird  capable 
to  trusse  an  elephant."  This  collection  after  the  death  of 
Tradescant's  son  in  1622,  became  the  property  of  Elias 
Ashmole,  and  it  was  the  nucleus  of  the  Ashmolean 
Museum  founded  at  Oxford  in  1682. 

But  phenix,  rukh,  anka,  simurgh,  garuda,  feng-huang 
and  others  that  have  not  been  mentioned,  such  as  Yel,  the 
mythical  raven  of  our  Northwest,  and  those  of  Malaya 
described  by  Skeat,7  are  all,  apparently,  members  of  the 
brood  hatched  ages  ago  in  that  same  sunrise  nest  and 
still  flying  amid  rosy  clouds  of  prehistoric  fable. 

The  first  glimpse  of  them  is  on  the  seals  and  tablets 
recovered  from  Mesopotamian  ruin-mounds.  In  the 
mystic  antiquity  of  the  Summerian  kingdom  of  Ur  and 
its  capital-city  Lagash,  a  gigantic  eagle,  "the  divine  bird 
Imgig"  was  the  royal  cognizance.  In  those  days,  as  Dr. 
Ward 23  discloses  from  his  study  of  the  oldest  Babylonian 
cylinders,  people  told  one  another  tales  of  monstrous  and 
fantastic  birds  of  prey  that  could  fly  away  with  an  ante- 
lope in  each  talon,  and  which  fought,  usually  victoriously, 
against  huge  winged  and  feathered  dragons  with  bodies 
like  those  of  crocodiles,  and  sometimes  with  human  heads. 


Such  representations  of  demons  were  the  prototypes  of 
the  grotesque  combinations  of  animal  features,  and  of 
men  and  animals,  more  familiar  to  us  in  the  Egyptian 
Sphinx,  the  classic  centaurs,  and  medieval  angels  and 

When  the  elders  in  Babylon  expounded  the  reason  for 
faith  in  these  antagonistic  supernatural  creatures,  they 
explained  that  the  "divine"  eagle  symbolized  beneficence 
and  protective  power  in  the  universe,  while  the  feathered 
monsters  stood  for  the  baffling  forces  of  malignancy  and 
harm.  In  this  philosophy,  probably,  is  the  underlying  re- 
lationship that  connects  all  this  Oriental  flock  of  fabulous 
fowls — visionary  flight-beings  in  varying  forms  and 
phases  that  seek  to  portray  the  powers  of  the  air,  mys- 
terious, uncontrollable,  overwhelming,  capable  of  all  the 
mind  of  primitive  man  could  conceive  or  his  gods  per- 
form. All  of  them  became  endowed  in  time  with  the 
luxuriant  colorings  of  Eastern  poetry  and  fiction,  and 
appear  now  heroic  and  picturesque,  as  one  expects  of 
everything  in  the  dreamy  Orient  of  tradition. 

In  the  cold  and  stormy  North,  however,  where  the 
sun  is  a  source  of  comfort  rather  than  of  terror,  and 
movements  of  the  atmosphere  are  more  often  feared 
than  blessed,  the  similar  conception  of  a  gigantic  skybird 
is  far  more  definite.  When  the  native  of  the  Russian 
plains,  struggling  homeward  against  driving  snow,  hears 
the  shrilling  and  howling  of  the  tempest  he  knows  Vikhar, 
the  Wind-Demon,  is  abroad.  Norsemen  represent  him 
as  Hraesvelg,  the  North  Wind,  an  eagle:  he  does  not 
"ride  on  the  wings  of  the  wind,"  he  is  the  wind,  and  the 
blast  from  the  arctic  sea  that  beats  upon  your  face  is  the 
air  set  in  motion  by  the  wings  of  this  colossal,  invisible 


bird  flying  southward.    That  it  is  big  enough  to  stir  the 
atmosphere  into  a  veritable  hurricane  is  plain: 

From  the  East  came  flying  hither, 
From  the  East  a  monstrous  eagle, 
One  wing  touched  the  vault  of  heaven, 
While  the  other  swept  the  ocean; 
With  his  tail  upon  the  waters, 
Reached  his  beak  beyond  the  cloudlets. 

And  such  an  eagle  as  this  one,  described  as  a  reality  in 
the  Kalevala,  the  legendary  epic  of  the  Finns,  possessing 
beak  and  talons  of  copper,  once  seized  and  bore  away  a 
maiden  to  its  eyrie,  thus  showing  itself  true  to  the  "form" 
of  the  East  whence  it  came. 

Most  of  our  North  American  Indians  typified  the 
winds,  especially  those  from  the  north,  as  birds,  and  many 
tribes  identified  the  storm-bringing  ones  with  their 
thunder-birds,  which  was  very  natural.  The  Algonkins 
believed  that  certain  birds  produced  the  phenomena  of 
wind  and  created  waterspouts,  and  that  the  clouds  were 
the  spreading  and  agitation  of  their  gigantic  wings.  The 
Navahos  thought  that  a  great  white  swan  sat  at  each  of  the 
four  points  of  the  compass  and  conjured  up  the  blasts 
that  came  therefrom,  while  the  Dakotas  believed  that  in 
the  west  is  the  residence  of  the  Wakinyjan,  "the  Flyers/' 
that  is,  the  breezes  that  develop  into  occasional  storms. 

It  was  in  the  Orient,  however,  where,  by  the  way, 
both  simurgh  and  garuda  serve  as  storm-bringers  in 
several  myths,  that  the  conception  of  gigantic  bird-beings 
was  expanded  and  elaborated  with  the  picturesque  details 
that  have  been  suggested  in  an  earlier  paragraph. 

A  very  old  Persian  tale,  with  many  fanciful  embroider- 
ings,  runs  as  follows:    There  are,  or  were,  two  trees— 


one  the  Tree  of  Life,  and  the  other  the  Tree  Opposed  to 
All  Harm,  the  tree  that  bears  the  seeds  of  all  useful 
things;  which  is  like  the  two  trees  in  the  Garden  of 
Eden,  over  in  Babylon.  In  the  latter  tree  sits  and  nests 
the  chief  of  all  the  mythic  birds,  the  simurgh  (called  in  the 
Avesta  "saena-meregha" ) ,  which  is  said  to  suckle  its 
young,  and  to  be  three  natures  "like  a  bat."  "Whenever 
he  arises  aloft  a  thousand  twigs  will  shoot  out  from  that 
tree,  and  when  he  alights  he  breaks  off  the  thousand  twigs 
and  bites  the  seeds  from  them.  And  the  bird  cinamros 
[second  only  to  the  simurgh]  alights  likewise  in  that 
vicinity ;  and  his  work  is  this,  that  he  collects  those  seeds 
that  are  bitten  from  the  tree  of  many  seeds,  which  is 
opposed  to  harm,  and  he  scatters  them  where  Tishtar 
[angel  that  provides  rain]  seizes  the  water  [from  the 
demons  of  drought]  ;  so  that,  while  Tishtar  shall  seize  the 
water,  together  with  those  seeds  of  all  kinds,  he  shall 
rain  them  on  the  world  with  the  rain."  Such  is  the  lan- 
guage of  the  sacred  books.26 

The  simurgh  figures  in  Firdausi's  93  legendary  epic  as 
the  foster-parent  of  Zal,  father  of  Rustam,  the  national 
hero  of  Persia.  When  Rudabah's  flank  was  opened  to 
bring  forth  Rustam  her  wound  was  healed  by  rubbing  it 
with  a  simurgh's  feather.  Rustam  himself,  once  wounded 
unto  death,  was  cured  in  the  same  manner,  and  other 
cases  are  recorded  in  great  variety.  Firdausi  explains 
that  the  simurgh  had  its  nest  on  Mt.  Elburz,  on  a  peak 
that  touched  the  sky  in  a  place  no  man  had  ever  seen; 
and  that  it  was  to  that  eyrie  that  it  carried  the  princely 
baby  Zal,  whence  it  was  recovered  by  its  parents.  In 
the  ancient  Avestan  ritual  it  is  stated  of  the  vulture 
varengana:  "If  a  man  holds  a  bone  of  that  strong  bird 
...  or  a  feather,  no  one  can  smite  or  turn  to  flight  that 


fortunate  man.  The  feather  of  that  bird  brings  him 
help  .  .  .  maintains  him  in  his  glory."  According  to 
De  Kay  18  the  simurgh  was  a  "god-like  bird  that  discussed 
predestination  with  Solomon,  as  the  eagle  of  Givernberg 
held  dialogues  with  King  Arthur.  .  .  .  The  simurgh  was 
a  prophet." 

But  of  all  the  fabulous  birds  that  infest  ancient  Persian 
mythology  none  is  held  so  important  as  the  falcon-like 
"karshipta,"  which  brought  the  sacred  law  into  the 
Paradise  of  Jamshid.  "Regarding  the  karshipta  they 
say  that  it  knew  how  to  speak  words,  and  brought  the 
religion  to  the  enclosure  which  Yim  made,  and  circulated 
it:  there  they  utter  the  Avesta  in  the  language  of  birds." 

We  read  also  of  a  gigantic  bird  in  Iran,  the  "kamar," 
"which  overshadowed  the  earth  and  kept  off  the  rain  till 
the  rivers  dried  up." 

In  the  Hindu  mythology  Vishnu  is  the  sun-god,  while 
Indra  represents  the  lightning  and  storm,  and  the  two  are 
in  general  opposites,  rivals,  enemies.  Vishnu  rides  on  an 
eagle  of  supernatural  size  and  power  called  garuda.  In 
the  Pahlavi  translation  of  the  stories  the  simurgh  takes 
the  place  of  the  eagle,  for  their  characters  as  well  as  their 
names  are  interchangeable.  Garuda  was  born  from  an 
egg  laid  by  Vinata,  herself  the  daughter  of  a  hawk  and 
the  mother  of  the  two  immense  vultures  that  in  Persian 
myths  guard  the  gates  of  hell,  and  elsewhere  figure  boldly 
in  Oriental  fables ;  it  is  a  mortal  enemy,  now  of  the  ser- 
pent and  now  of  the  elephant,  and  now  of  the  tortoise — 
all  three  connected  with  Indra.  This  bird  carries  into 
the  air  an  elephant  and  a  tortoise  in  order  to  devour 
them,  and  in  one  of  the  various  accounts  leaves  them  on 
a  mountain-top  as  did  the  simurgh  and  the  rukh  their 
iniquitous  "liftings." 


Garuda  also  appears  in  Japanese  legendary  art  as  gario, 
or  binga,  or  bingacho,  or  karobinga,  half  woman,  half 
bird,  a  sort  of  winged  and  feathered  angel  with  a  tail  like 
a  phenix  and  legs  like  a  crane.  This  reminds  us  of  the 
harpies  of  Greece.  The  Malays  recognize  the  image,  and 
when  a  cloud  obscures  the  sun  Perak  men  will  say: 
"Gerda  is  spreading  his  wings  to  dry." 

The  Chinese,  and  after  them  the  Japanese,  had  a 
phenix-like  bird  in  their  mythical  aviary,  which  persists 
in  the  faith  of  the  more  simple-minded  of  their  peoples, 
and  as  a  fruitful  motive  in  the  decorative  art  of  each. 
It  was  one  of  the  four  supernatural  creatures  that  in 
ancient  Chinese  philosophy  symbolized  the  four  quarters 
of  the  heavens.  The  Taoists,  whose  religious  ideas  are 
older  than  Confucianism  and  prevailed  especially  among 
the  humble  and  unlearned,  called  it  the  Scarlet  Bird,  and 
associated  it  with  the  element  Fire,  and  with  their  mys- 
tic number  7.  Archaic  pictures  show  a  crested  bird  with 
long  tail-feathers — a  figure  that  might  well  be  meant  for 
a  peacock.  The  creature  itself  is  said  not  to  have  been 
seen  by  mortal  eyes  since  the  time  of  Confucius,  but  it 
has  by  no  means  been  forgotten,  for  it  is  the  fung- 
whang,  or  feng-huang  (which  is  the  names  of  the  male 
and  the  female  of  the  species  conjoined)  ;  and  it  lives 
even  now  on  embroidered  screens  and  painted  vases,  or 
proudly  distinguishes  royal  robes,  from  the  Thibetan 
mountains  to  the  Yellow  Sea. 

A  recent  writer  on  Eastern  art 68  describes  the  proper 
fung  as  a  gorgeously  colored  bird  with  a  long  tail.  Its 
feathers  are  red,  azure,  yellow,  white,  and  black,  the  five 
colors  belonging  to  the  five  principal  virtues;  and  the 
Chinese  ideograms  for  uprightness,  humanity,  virtue, 
honesty,  and  sincerity,  are  impressed  on  various  parts  of 


its  body.  Its  cries  are  symbolic,  its  appearance  precedes 
the  advent  of  virtuous  rulers.  As  in  the  other  cases 
this  bird  carries  something  away — this  time  an  eminent 
philosopher,  Baik-fu,  was  translated.  In  Japan  the 
peasantry,  at  least,  still  hold  to  the  reality  of  the  same 
bird  under  the  name  ho-ho,  and  artists  and  symbolists 
have  beautifully  utilized  the  conception. 90  The  belief 
is  that  the  sun  descends  to  earth  from  time  to  time  in  the 
form  of  the  ho-ho,  as  a  messenger  of  love,  peace,  and 
goodwill,  and  rests  on  one  or  another  of  the  torii.  It 
appears  to  have  become  a  badge  of  imperial  rank  in 
China  before  the  time  of  the  Ming  dynasty,  and,  in 
Japan  it  became  the  symbol  of  the  empress,  and  in  old 
times,  as  we  are  told,  only  empresses  and  royal  princesses 
could  have  its  likeness  woven  into  their  dress-goods. 

It  will  be  noticed  that  this  last-considered  member  of 
our  fabulous  flock,  the  fung-whang  or  ho-ho,  is  the 
only  one  not  of  gigantic  size  or  distorted  or  terrifying 
aspect.  This  indicates  to  me  its  comparatively  recent 
origin,  and  its  beneficent  disposition  shows  that  it  is  the 
creation  of  men  accustomed  to  peace  under  kindly  skies. 
It  is  an  interesting  fact  that  when  the  Mongolian  felt 
called  upon  to  portray  demoniac  beings  he  exaggerated  to 
the  extent  of  his  ability  human  expressions  of  rage, 
villainy  and  ferocity,  instead  of  using  for  his  purpose 
animals  of  Titanic  size,  or  in  horrifying  combinations, 
as  did  magicians  south  of  the  great  mountains. 

The  explanation  seems  not  far  away.  The  territory 
that  apparently  always  has  been  the  home  of  the  homo- 
geneous "yellow"  race  is  essentially  a  vast  plain  extend- 
ing from  the  mountains  of  central  Asia  westward  to  the 
Pacific  and  meridianally  from  southern  China  to  the 
border  of  Kamptchatka.    It  includes  the  spacious  valleys 


of  China,  proper,  the  plains  and  deserts  of  Mongolia, 
and  the  broad  prairies  that  stretch  across  Manchuria, 
making  together  the  widest  area  of  fairly  level  and  till- 
able land  on  the  globe.  Much  of  it  was  never  forested, 
and  from  a  large  part  of  the  remainder  the  scanty  growth 
of  woods  had  been  cleared  before  written  history  began. 
The  climate  as  a  whole  is  temperate  and  equable,  and 
rarely  disturbed  by  startling  and  destructive  meteoro- 
logical phenomena.  Furthermore,  except  the  tigers  of 
the  jungly  southeastern  border,  no  dangerous  animals  are 
to  be  feared  or  to  be  idealized  into  mythical  things  of 
terror.  Two  evils  of  nature  remain  to  disturb  the  in- 
habitants of  this  favored  region — annual  spring-floods, 
often  fatally  widespread;  and,  second,  frequent  earth- 
quakes. The  floods  are  perfectly  understood  in  their 
cause  as  well  as  in  their  effects,  and  afford  little  material 
for  superstition.  As  for  the  earthquakes,  the  people  long 
ago  found  a  sufficient  explanation  in  the  invention  of  a 
burrowing  beast  of  prodigious  size  and  strength,  which 
they  called  an  "earth-dragon,"  and  whose  movements  as 
it  stirs  about  heaves  the  ground  beneath  our  feet.  The 
wave-like  character  of  the  earth-shocks  showed  that  the 
dragon  must  be  elongated  and  reptile-like;  and  now  and 
then  a  landslide  or  diggings  disclosed  long  and  massive 
bones  that  evidently  were  those  of  these  subterranean 
monsters,  although  foreigners  said  they  were  fossil  re- 
mains of  Mesozoic  reptiles  or  something  else.  The  whole 
idea,  in  fact,  is  so  plausible  and  logical,  that  it  really  be- 
longs to  scientific  hypothesis  rather  than  to  mythology. 

The  reaction  of  this  tranquil  geographical  situation  and 
history  has  been  to  produce,  or  mould,  a  people  gentle, 
self-contained  and  averse  to  strife.  This  is  not  par- 
ticularly to  their  credit  or  their  discredit.    It  is  as  natural 


for  a  race  developed  in  the  valley  of  the  Hoang  Ho  to  be 
peaceable  as  for  one  bred  along  the  Danube  or  the  St. 
Lawrence  to  be  belligerent. 

In  such  an  unterrifying  situation  as  his  the  Mongolian 
felt  no  impulse  to  coin  the  manifestations  of  nature, 
elemental  or  animated,  into  malignant  demons,  but  rather 
impersonated  them,  if  at  all,  as  beings  with  kindly  in- 
tentions and  of  beautiful  form.  That  such  impersona- 
tions are  few,  and  that  Chinese  mythology  furnishes  a 
comparatively  small  contribution  to  the  world's  store  of 
specimens  of  that  primitive  stage  in  human  mentality,  is, 
I  think,  another  evidence  of  the  equable  physical  en- 
vironment in  which  the  people  of  the  Flowery  Kingdom 
have  been  nurtured,  which,  while  it  contributed  to  their 
sanity,  did  little  to  stimulate  their  imaginations. 

On  the  other  hand,  men  and  women  who  endured, 
day  by  day,  the  blistering  heat  and  drouth  of  the  desert; 
or  who  knew  the  awe-inspiring  mountains,  where  gloomy 
glens  alternate  with  cloud-veiled  heights,  the  thunders  of 
unseen  avalanches  shock  the  ear,  and  appalling  fires  that 
no  man  kindles  rage  against  the  snows ;  or  who  night  and 
day  must  guard  his  or  her  life  in  the  jungle  against  lurk- 
ing perils  from  tooth  and  claw  and  poison-fang — such 
persons  were  aroused  to  mental  as  well  as  physical  alert- 
ness for  safety's  sake,  and  saw  in  almost  every  circum- 
stance of  their  lives  visions  of  unearthly  power.  Unable 
in  their  narrow,  slowly  developing  knowledge  and  meagre 
intellection,  to  comprehend  much  of  what  confronted 
them,  yet  understanding  some  small  sources  and  agencies 
of  power,  what  more  natural  than  that  they  should  picture 
the  often  tremendous  exhibitions  of  nature's  force  as  the 
product  of  enormously  greater  powers.  Hence  not  only 
the  bigness  attributed  to  the  mythical  birds  we  have 


sketched  but  their  supernatural  abilities,  and  also — in  ac- 
cordance with  constant  experience  of  the  general  antago- 
nism between  nature  and  human  purposes — the  malig- 
nancy characterizing  most  of  them. 

For,  as  has  been  said,  Garuda,  Simurgh,  Phenix, 
Fung- Whang  and  all  the  others  are  only  visions  woven 
out  of  the  sunshine,  the  clouds  and  the  winds,  in  the  loom 
of  primitive  imagination.  It  is  quite  a  waste  of  time, 
therefore,  to  try  as  some  have  done  (notably  Professor 
Newton  55)  to  connect  any  one  of  them  with  some  living 
or  extinct  reality,  as,  for  example,  the  Rukh  with  the 
epiornis  or  any  other  of  the  big  extinct  ratite  birds  of 
Madagascar.  Eagles  and  vultures  and  peacocks  have 
served  as  suggestions  for  fantastic  creations  of  a  vagrant 
fancy,  and  that  is  all  the  reality  they  ever  had.  We  do 
not  know,  probably  never  can  know,  the  ultimate  source 
of  these  stories  and  images,  so  varied  yet  so  alike;  nor 
whether  all  have  spread  from  one  source,  or  have  in  some 
instances  arisen  independently,  as  would  seem  probable  in 
the  case  of  those  told  about  American  aboriginal  camp- 
fires  ;  but  we  may  be  sure  that  their  conception  was  in  the 
morning  of  civilization  (more  likely  far  back  of  that)  as 
products  of  the  uncultured,  nature-fearing,  marvel-loving 
fancy  of  prehistoric  mankind. 



THE  pagans  of  primitive  times  along  the  shores  of 
the  Mediterranean  believed  in  personal  gods  and 
their  guidance  in  human  affairs.  With  the  ap- 
proval of  these  gods,  or  of  that  departmental  god  or 
goddess  having  charge  of  the  matter  in  mind,  one's  pro- 
ject would  prosper,  whereas  their  disapproval  meant 
failure  and  very  likely  some  punishment  under  divine 
wrath.  The  human  difficulty  was  to  learn  the  will  of  said 

Equally  well  settled  was  the  doctrine  that  birds — which 
seemed  to  belong  to  the  celestial  spaces  overhead  where 
the  gods  lived  and  manifested  their  variable  moods,  now 
in  sunshine  and  zephyr,  now  by  storm-clouds,  and  rainfall 
— were  inspired  messengers  of  the  gods,  and  required 
reverent  attention.  This,  however,  did  but  throw  the 
difficulty  one  step  further  back,  for  how  could  human  in- 
telligence comprehend  the  messages  birds  were  constantly 
bringing  ? 

At  any  rate  the  principal  and  most  numerous  omens 
in  the  pre-Christian  centuries  were  drawn  from  birds; 
and  this  kind  of  divination  gained  so  much  credit  that 
other  kinds  were  little  regarded.  It  was  based,  as  has 
been  indicated,  on  the  theory  that  these  creatures,  by 
their  actions,  wittingly  or  unwittingly,  conveyed  the  will 
of  the  gods.    This  super-avian  attribute  was  by  no  means 



confined  to  the  prominent  raven  and  crow,  whose  pro- 
phetic qualities  have  been  portrayed  in  another  chapter, 
for  various  birds  came  to  be  considered  "fortunate"  or 
"unfortunate,"  from  the  point  of  view  of  the  seeker  after 
supernal  guidance,  either  on  account  of  their  own 
characteristics  or  according  to  the  place  and  manner  of 
their  appearance;  hence  the  same  species  might,  at  dif- 
ferent times,  foretell  contrary  events.  Let  me  quote  here 
a  succinct  statement  from  The  Encyclopedia  Londonensis, 
published  in  the  early  part  of  the  18th  century: 

If  a  flock  of  various  birds  came  flying  about  any  man  it  was 
an  excellent  omen.  The  eagle  was  particularly  observed  for 
drawing  omens;  when  it  was  observed  to  be  brisk  and  lively, 
and  especially  if,  during  its  sportiveness,  it  flew  from  the  right 
hand  to  the  left,  it  was  one  of  the  best  omens  that  the  gods 
could  give.  Respecting  vultures  there  are  different  opinions, 
both  among  the  Greek  and  the  Roman  authors;  by  some  they 
are  represented  as  birds  of  lucky  omen,  while  Aristotle  and 
Pliny  reckon  them  among  the  unlucky  birds.  If  the  hawk  was 
seen  seizing  and  devouring  her  prey,  it  portended  death;  but  if 
the  prey  escaped  deliverance  from  danger  was  portended. 
Swallows  wherever  and  under  whatever  circumstances  they 
were  seen  were  unlucky  birds ;  before  the  defeat  of  Pyrrhus  and 
Antony  they  appeared  on  the  tent  of  the  former  and  the  ship 
of  the  latter;  and,  by  dispiriting  their  minds,  probably  pre- 
pared the  way  for  their  subsequent  disasters.  In  every  part  of 
Greece  except  Athens,  owls  were  regarded  as  unlucky  birds; 
but  at  Athens,  being  sacred  to  Minerva,  they  were  looked  upon 
as  omens  of  victory  and  success.  The  swan,  being  an  omen 
of  fair  weather,  was  deemed  a  lucky  bird  by  mariners. 

The  most  inauspicious  omens  were  given  by  ravens,  but  the 
degree  of  misfortune  which  they  were  supposed  to  portend 
depended,  in  some  measure,  in  their  appearing  on  the  right 
hand  or  the  left;  if  they  came  croaking  on  the  right  hand  it 
was  a  tolerably  good  omen;  but  if  on  the  left  a  very  bad  one. 
.  .  .  The  crow  appearing  [at  a  wedding]  denoted  long  life  to 
the  married  pair,  if  it  appeared  with  its  mate ;  but  if  it  was  seen 
single  separation  and  sorrow  were  portended.     Whence  it  was 


customary  at  nuptials  for  the  maids  to  watch  that  none  of  these 
birds  coming  singly  should  disturb  the  solemnity. 

It  was  hardly  to  be  expected  that  the  comprehension 
of  all  this  science  of  soothsaying  should  belong  to 
ordinary  mortals;  and  therefore  there  arose  early  in  its 
development  certain  clever  ''wise  men"  who  declared 
themselves  endowed  with  magical  power  to  understand 
the  language  of  birds,  and  to  interpret  both  their  chatter 
and  their  actions.  Thus  originated  the  profession  of 
augury,  a  word  that  spells  "bird-talk"  in  its  root-meaning, 
with  its  later  product  auspices,  or  "bird-viewers."  The 
augur  originally  was  a  priest  (or  a  magician,  if  you  prefer 
that  term)  who  listened  to  what  the  birds  said;  and  the 
auspex  was  another  who  watched  what  they  did,  or 
examined  their  entrails  to  observe  anything  abnormal  that 
he  might  construe  as  an  answer  to  prayer,  or  interpreted 
something  else  in  the  nature  of  an  omen  from  this  or  that 
divinity,  or  from  all  the  gods  together. 

I  need  not  describe  the  elaborate  rites  and  ceremonies 
that  came  to  be  associated  with  the  practice  of  this  kind 
of  divination  (ornithomancy),  especially  under  the 
revered  and  powerful  College  of  Augurs  that  practically 
ruled  the  Roman  Republic,  even  in  the  Augustan  age,  for 
it  will  suffice  to  direct  attention  to  a  few  features. 

Birds  were  distinguished  by  the  Roman  augurs  as 
oscines  or  alites,  "talkers"  and  "flyers."  The  oscines  were 
birds  that  gave  signs  by  their  cry  as  well  as  by  flight,  such 
as  ravens,  owls  and  crows.  The  alites  included  birds  like 
eagles  and  vultures,  which  gave  signs  by  their  manner  of 
flying.  The  quarter  of  the  heavens  in  which  they  ap- 
peared, and  their  position  relative  to  that  of  the  observer, 
were  most  important   factors   in   determining  the   sig- 


nificance  of  the  supposed  message,  as  has  been  extensively 
explained  in  an  earlier  chapter  of  this  book. 

This  science  or  business  of  bird-divination,  for  it  was 
both,  was  of  prehistoric  antiquity.  Plutarch  94  records 
that  Romulus  and  Remus,  the  fabled  founders  of  the 
Latin  race  began  their  eventful  life  under  a  wild  fig-tree, 
where  a  she-wolf  nursed  them,  and  a  woodpecker  con- 
stantly fed  and  watched  over  them.  'These  creatures,,, 
Plutarch  remarks,  "are  esteemed  holy  to  the  god  Mars — 
the  woodpecker  the  Latins  still  especially  worship  and 
honor.  Romulus  became  skilled  in  divination,  and  first 
carried  the  lituits,  or  diviner's  staff,  a  crooked  rod  with 
which  soothsayers  indicated  the  quarters  of  the  heavens 
when  observing  the  flight  of  birds." 

Among  the  Romans  not  a  bird 
Without  a  prophecy  was  heard. 
Fortunes  of  empire  often  hung 
On  the  magician  magpie's  tongue, 
And  every  crow  was  to  the  state 
A  sure  interpreter  of  fate. — Churchill. 

The  peculiar  province  of  the  auspices,  or  bird-in- 
specters,  was  to  seek  the  will  of  the  gods  as  to  some  con- 
templated act  or  policy  by  watching  the  behavior  of 
the  sacred  chickens,  cared  for  by  an  official  called 
pullarius.  "If  the  chickens  came  too  slowly  out  of  the 
cage,  or  would  not  feed,  it  was  a  bad  omen;  but  if  they 
fed  greedily,  so  that  some  part  of  their  food  fell  and 
struck  the  ground,  it  was  deemed  an  excellent  omen." — 
and  so  forth  and  so  forth. 

It  is  rather  engaging  to  inquire  why  the  humble  barn- 
yard fowl  was  used  for  so  momentous  a  function. 
Partly,  no  doubt,  because  it  was  the  most  convenient  kind 
of  bird  to  keep  and  propagate  in  captivity,  and  therefore 


would  always  be  at  hand  when  wanted  (and  in  case  the 
prophecy-demand  was  light  an  occasional  pullet  for  the 
official  pot  would  not  be  missed!),  but  also  because  its 
witlessness  made  it  dependable.  A  devotee  of  this  way  of 
omen-catching  would  explain  that  of  course  the  bird  was 
unconscious  of  the  part  it  played;  that  its  mind  was  a 
mere  receptacle  of  divine  impulses  to  act  in  a  certain  way, 
the  significance  of  which  the  auspex  understood  and  re- 
ported. If  that  theory  is  true,  it  follows  that  the  more 
empty-headed  the  "medium"  is  the  better,  for  it  would 
then  have  fewer  ideas  of  its  own  to  short-circuit  the  in- 
spired impulses.  This  view  has,  in  fact,  influenced  ignor- 
ant folks  everywhere  in  their  conclusion  that  men  who 
were  witless,  or  crazy,  or  had  lost  their  mentality  in  a 
trance,  were  "possessed,"  mostly  by  devils  but  sometimes 
by  good  "spirits"  which  had  found  a  mind  "swept  and 
garnished,"  as  St.  Luke  said,  and  had  become  vocal 
tenants ;  whence,  it  was  argued,  no  human  rationality  in- 
terfered with  the  transmission  of  the  message,  and  men 
must  accept  what  the  tongues  uttered  as  inspired  words. 
"Out  of  the  mouths  of  babes  and  sucklings  came  forth 
praise"  that  was  praise  indeed,  because  the  infants  knew 
not  what  they  said.  That  was  the  reason  Balaam  listened 
with  so  much  respect  to  the  warning  spoken  by  his  ass; 
and  many  a  preaching  ass  since  has  had  a  similar  reward 
for  articulate  braying. 

One  more  consideration  suggests  itself.  The  ominous 
flock  kept  by  the  pullarius  contained  both  cocks  and  hens ; 
and  the  cock,  as  a  bird  of  the  sun,  has  been  "sacred"  from 
prehistoric  antiquity  in  that  primitive  nature-worship 
from  which  the  Greco-Romans  were  by  no  means  free. 
"It  is  not  improbable,"  we  are  assured  by  Houghton  9B 
"that  the  sacrificial  rites  and  consultation  by  augury,  in 


which  cooks  figured  among  the  Romans,  came  originally 
from  Babylonia  ...  I  think  that  the  figure  [in  a  seal]  of 
a  cock  perched  on  an  altar  before  a  priest  making  his  of- 
ferings .  .  .  represents  the  bird  in  this  capacity  as  a  sooth- 
sayer." In  fact,  a  whole  department  of  the  science  of 
augury  was  known  as  alectromancy,  in  which  a  barnyard 
cock  was  the  agent  or  medium  of  inspiration. 

These  practices — which  were  entirely  void  of  morality 
— are  a  curious  index  of  the  mental  barbarism  of  the  early 
Greeks  and  Romans,  for  they  are  quite  on  a  level  with 
the  ideas  and  doings  of  savages  now. 

With  the  advance  in  knowledge  and  enlightenment  cul- 
minating in  the  philosophy  of  Cicero  and  his  skeptical 
contemporaries,  both  faith  and  practice  in  this  childish 
consultation  of  chickens  and  crows  disappeared,  or  de- 
scended to  be  merely  a  political  sop  for  the  credulous 
populace.  Even  this  passed  away  when  superstitious 
paganism  faded  out  of  the  religion  of  mankind  in  Europe, 
or,  more  exactly,  it  became  changed  into  a  faith  in  weather 
prophecy  by  noticing  the  behavior  of  birds  and  other 
animals ;  but  these  prognostications  are  based  not  on  a  sup- 
posed message  from  the  gods  but  on  deductions  from  ob- 
servation and  experience.  Let  us  see  how  far  this 
modern  method  of  augury  is  of  service  as  a  sort  of  home- 
made Weather  Bureau — we  will,  as  it  were,  study  the 
genesis  of  the  Rain-bird.  It  began  early.  Aristophanes 
tells  us,  of  the  Greeks: 

From  birds  in  sailing  men  instruction  take 
Now  lie  in  port,  now  sail,  and  profit  make. 

The  proprietor  of  Gardiner's  Island,  at  the  eastern  end 
of  Long  Island,  New  York,  where  fish-hawks  then 
abounded,  and  always  since  have  been  under  protection, 


told  Alexander  Wilson  46  many  facts  of  interest  respect- 
ing their  habits,  among  others  the  following: 

They  are  sometimes  seen  high  in  the  air,  sailing  and  cutting 
strange  gambols,  with  loud  vociferations,  darting  down  several 
hundred  feet  perpendicularly,  frequently  with  part  of  a  fish  in 
one  claw,  which  they  seem  proud  of,  and  to  claim  "high  hook,"  as 
the  fishermen  call  him  who  takes  the  greatest  number.  On  these 
occasions  they  serve  as  a  barometer  to  foretell  the  changes  of 
the  atmosphere;  for  when  the  fish-hawks  are  thus  sailing  high 
in  air,  in  circles,  it  is  universally  believed  to  prognosticate  a 
change  of  weather,  often  a  thunder-storm  in  a  few  hours.  On 
the  faith  of  the  certainty  of  these  signs  the  experienced  coaster 
wisely  prepares  for  the  expected  storm,  and  is  rarely  mistaken. 

It  would  be  hard  to  find  a  better  epitome  of  the  "signs" 
given  by  birds  to  the  weather-prophet.  Similar  behavior 
in  sea-gulls  is  interpreted  in  the  same  way:  but  in  most 
cases  high  flight  is  said  to  denote  continuance  of  fine 
weather,  and  in  general  there  is  good  sense  in  that  view, 
because,  as  a  rule,  bad  weather  descends  upon  us  from 
the  higher  strata  of  the  atmosphere,  and  birds  up  there 
would  be  the  first  to  feel  its  approach.  Hence  the  joyous 
greeting,  "Everything  is  lovely  and  the  goose  honks 
(not  'hangs')  high."    Sailors  have  a  rhyme — 

When  men-of-war-hawks  fly  high,  't  is  a  sign  of  clear  sky; 
When  they  fly  low  prepare  for  a  blow. 

This  point  is  made  in  particular  in  respect  to  swallows 
of  various  kinds,  which  are  regarded  in  most  countries  as 
presaging  rain  when  they  all  go  skimming  along  close  to 
the  ground;  but  it  was  pure  fancy  that  expanded  this 
warning  into  the  senseless  couplet 

When  the  swallow  buildeth  low 
You  can  safely  reap  and  sow. 


That  is,  I  suppose,  the  season  will  then  furnish  rain 
enough  for  a  good  crop.  The  same  thing  is  sung  of 
swans.  But  even  the  swallows  cannot  be  depended  on  as 
indicators,  for  in  late  summer  and  autumn  they  are  more 
likely  to  skim  along  the  ground  and  over  ponds  than  to 
go  anywhere  else;  and,  as  showing  the  uncertainty  in 
men's  minds  in  this  matter,  or  else  how  signs  change  with 
locality,  it  may  be  mentioned  that  in  Argentina  swallows 
are  held  to  indicate  coming  storms  not  by  low  but  by  ele- 
vated flight.  Thus  the  naturalist  Hudson  **  writes  of  the 
musical  martin  (Progne),  familiar  about  Buenos  Ay  res: 
"It  is  ...  .  the  naturalist's  barometer,  as  whenever,  the 
atmosphere  being  clear  and  dry,  the  progne  perches  on 
the  weathercock  or  lightning-rod,  on  the  highest  points  of 
the  house-top,  or  on  the  topmost  twig  of  some  lofty  tree, 
chanting  its  incantation,  cloudy  weather  and  rain  will 
surely  follow  within  twenty-four  hours.'' 

None  of  the  host  of  sayings,  of  which  you  may  read 
hundreds  in  the  publications  of  the  United  States  Weather 
Service,  and  in  such  collections  of  odd  lore  as  Gleanings 
for  the  Curious*6  that  pretend  to  foretell  the  character  of 
a  whole  season  from  what  birds  do,  are  worth  credence. 
For  example,  some  declare  that  "a  dry  summer  will  fol- 
low when  birds  build  their  nests  in  exposed  places,"  on 
the  theory,  I  suppose,  that  the  builders  will  have  no  fear 
of  getting  wet;  and 

If  birds   in  the  autumn  grow  tame, 
The  winter  will  be  cold  for  game. 

One  important  exception  to  this  kind  of  nonsense  may 
be  made,  however,  for  in  certain  circumstances  it  is  fair 
to  accept  from  our  American  birds  a  broad  hint  as  to  the 
character  of  the  approaching  winter.     Experience  con- 


vinces  us  that  an  unusually  early  arrival  of  migratory 
birds  from  the  north  indicates  an  extra  cold  winter  to  fol- 
low. Several  northwestern  sayings  about  ducks  and  geese 
tell  us  that  whenever  they  leave  Lake  Superior  noticeably 
earlier  than  is  their  wont;  or  fly  southward  straight  and 
fast,  not  lingering  near  accustomed  halting-places,  then 
a  severe  season  is  to  be  anticipated.  In  the  sum  this  is 
logical,  for  this  reason: 

Birds  whose  home  is  in  the  far  North — and  several 
species  go  to  the  extreme  limit  of  arctic  lands  to  make 
their  nests — must  quit  those  desolate  coasts  as  soon  as 
chilling  rains,  snow-storms,  and  frost  begin  to  kill  the 
insects,  bury  the  plants  and  freeze  the  streams,  thus  cut- 
ting off  food-supplies ;  and  they  must  keep  ahead  of  those 
famine-producing  conditions  as  they  travel  southward 
toward  their  winter-resorts  in  a  more  hospitable  zone. 
On  the  average,  their  arrival  in  the  United  States  will  be 
nearly  on  the  same  date  year  after  year. 

It  sometimes  happens,  however,  that  winter  will  pounce 
upon  the  arctic  border  of  the  continent  days  or  weeks 
earlier  than  usual,  and  the  cold  and  snowfall  will  exceed 
the  normal  quantity.  In  such  circumstances  the  birds 
must  make  their  escape  more  hastily  than  ordinarily,  and 
will  come  down  across  the  Canadian  border  in  larger  and 
more  hurrying  companies,  very  likely  accompanied  by 
such  species  as  snow-birds,  crossbills,  pine  finches  and 
evening  grosbeaks,  which  in  general  pass  the  winter  some- 
what to  the  north  of  our  boundary.  Excessive  cold  in 
the  far  North  is  almost  certain  to  influence  southern 
Canada  and  the  northern  states,  and  it  is  therefore  safe 
to  conclude,  when  we  witness  this  behavior  of  migratory 
birds,  that  a  winter  of  exceptional  severity  has  set  in  at 
the  north  and  is  in  store  for  us.    But  the  prophets  are 


ourselves — not  the  birds !  They  are  dealing  with  danger- 
ous conditions,  and  leave  it  to  us  to  do  the  theorizing. 

One  feature  of  the  behavior  of  the  fish-hawks  in  Wil- 
son's story  was  their  restlessness,  taken  by  fishermen  to 
betoken  a  rising  storm.  There  may  be  some  value  in  this 
"sign,"  since  it  is  noted  in  many  other  cases.  Dozens  of 
proverbs  mention  as  indications  various  unusual  actions 
noticeable  in  poultry,  such  as  crowing  at  odd  times,  clap- 
pings of  the  wings,  rolling  in  the  dust,  standing  about  in  a 
distraught  kind  of  way,  a  tendency  to  flocking,  and  so 
forth.  Many  popular  sayings  tell  us  that  both  barnyard 
fowls  and  wild  birds  become  very  noisy  before  an  un- 
favorable change  in  the  weather. 

When  the  peacock  loudly  bawls 
Soon  we'll  have  both  rain  and  squalls, 

is  one  such.  Virgil's  statement  that  "the  owl"  screeches 
unduly  at  such  a  time  is  supported  by  modern  testimony. 

A  reasonable  explanation  of  this  uneasiness  is  that  it 
is  the  effect  of  that  increased  electrical  tension  in  the  at- 
mosphere that  often  precedes  a  shower,  to  which  small 
creatures  are  perhaps  more  sensitive  than  are  men  and 
large  animals.  It  will  not  do,  then,  to  reject  all  the 
weather-signs  popularly  alleged  to  be  given  by  animals. 

At  the  same  time,  as  has  been  suggested,  much  of  the 
current  weather-prophecy  relating  to  animals  is  silly, 
such,  for  example,  that  a  solitary  turkey-buzzard  seen  at 
a  great  altitude  indicates  rain;  that  blackbirds'  notes  are 
very  shrill  before  rain ;  that  there  will  be  no  rain  the  day 
a  heron  flies  down  the  creek ;  that  when  woodpeckers  peck 
low  on  the  tree-trunks  expect  a  hard  winter.  These,  and 
many  other  nonsensical  maxims,  are  in  fact  spurious. 
Most  of  them,  no  doubt,  were  uttered  originally  in  jest, 


or  as  a  whimsical  answer  to  some  inquisitive  child,  then 
repeated  as  amusing,  and  finally  quoted  seriously.  Others 
have  been  brought  to  us  from  the  old  world  by  early 
farmer-immigrants — French  in  Canada,  Louisiana  and 
New  England,  Dutch  in  New  York,  Swedish  and  German 
in  New  Jersey  and  Pennsylvania,  Spanish  in  the  South- 
west, and  so  on — and  have  been  applied  to  our  native 
birds,  where  often  they  fail  to  fit.  A  saw  that  perhaps  had 
some  value  when  told  of  the  European  robin  or  black- 
bird, is  ludicrously  inappropriate  when  said  of  our  black- 
birds and  robins,  which  are  totally  different  in  nature  and 

One  of  the  most  venerable  of  these  worthless  prognos- 
tics, and  one  that  very  likely  is  a  relic  of  Roman  auspices, 
twenty-five  centuries  ago,  is  that  of  the  goose-bone : 

"To  read  the  winter  of  any  year  take  the  breast-bone  of  a 
goose  hatched  during  the  preceding  spring.  The  bone  is  trans- 
lucent, and  it  will  be  found  to  be  colored  and  spotted.  The  dark 
color  and  heavy  spots  indicate  cold.  If  the  spots  are  of  light 
shade,  and  transparent,  wet  weather,  rain  or  snow,  may  be 
looked  for. 

"If   the  November   goose-bone  be   thick, 

So  will  the  winter  weather  be; 

If  the  November  goose-bone  be  thin, 

So  will  the  winter  weather  be." 

One  need  not  wonder  at  the  indignant  refusal  of  hard- 
headed  commanders  of  old  who  refused  to  let  their  strat- 
egy or  tactics  to  be  interfered  with  by  alarmed  priests 
who  reported  unfavorable  auguries  from  dissected  hens. 
Eusebius  records  the  legend  that  a  bird  was  presented  to 
Alexander  the  Macedonian  when  on  the  point  of  setting 
out  for  the  Red  Sea,  in  order  that  he  might  read  the 
auguries  according  to  custom,    Alexander  killed  the  bird 


by  an  arrow,  saying,  "What  folly  is  this  ?  How  could  a 
bird  that  could  not  foresee  its  death  by  this  arrow,  predict 
the  fortunes  of  our  journey?"  The  shocked  bystanders 
might  have  replied,  of  course,  that  the  poor  creature  had 
no  such  knowledge  in  itself,  but  was  merely  the  blank  on 
which  divine  intelligence  was  written ;  but  the  chances  are 
that  they  held  their  tongues !  Plutarch  mentions  many  a 
case  in  which  commanders  construed  the  "omens"  in  a 
way  contrary  to  the  priestly  interpretation,  in  order  to 
carry  out  some  plan  that  could  not  be  delayed,  and  yet 
conciliate  the  superstitious  soldiers. 

It  will  have  been  noticed  that  most  of  the  prophecies 
learned  from  birds  relate  to  coming  rain  or  bad  weather, 
and  winter  rather  than  summer.  In  The  Strange  Meta- 
morphosis of  Man  (1634),  as  quoted  by  Brewer,34  speak- 
ing of  the  goose,  we  read:  "She  is  no  witch  or  astrologer, 
.  .  .  but  she  hath  a  shrewd  guesse  of  rainie  weather, 
being  as  good  as  an  almanac  to  some  that  beleeve  in  her." 
Men  generally  seem  more  desirous  of  ascertaining  the 
evil  than  the  good  that  may  be  in  store  for  them.  The 
feeling  is,  perhaps,  that  if  we  knew  of  dangers  ahead  we 
might  prepare  for  them,  but  that  in  fair  days  we  can  take 
care  of  ourselves.  Almost  every  country  has  some  par- 
ticular "rain-bird"  whose  cry  is  supposed  to  foretell 
showers.  In  England  it  is  the  green  woodpecker,  or 
yaffle ;  in  Malaya  a  broadbill ;  in  some  parts  of  this  country 
the  spotted  sandpiper,  or  tipup ;  but  everywhere  some  sort 
of  cuckoo  is  called  "rain-bird"  or  "rain-crow,"  although 
the  various  cuckoos  of  America,  Europe,  and  the  Orient, 
differ  widely  in  appearance,  habits  and  voice. 

Why  should  peoples  so  dissimilar  and  widely  scattered 
attribute  to  this  very  diverse  cuckoo  family  the  quality  of 
"rain-birds"  more  than  to  another  family?     I  can  only 


believe  that  it  denotes  the  survival  of  a  very  ancient 
Oriental  notion,  whose  significance  was  very  real  in  a 
symbolic  way  to  the  primitive  people  among  whom  it 
originated  locally,  but  has  now  been  utterly  forgotten. 

Plunging  into  the  thickets  of  comparative  mythology, 
hoping  to  pluck  a  few  fruity  facts  for  our  pains,  we  find 
that  in  Hindoo  myths  the  cuckoo  stands  as  a  symbol  of 
the  sun  when  hidden  behind  clouds,  that  is,  for  a  rainy 
condition  of  the  sky;  furthermore  that  this  bird  has  a 
reputation  for  possessing  exceeding  wisdom  surpassing 
that  of  other  birds,  all  of  which  are  fabled  to  be  super- 
naturally  wise :  and  that  it  knew  not  only  things  present 
but  things  to  come.  It  was,  in  fact,  in  the  opinion  of  the 
ancient  Hindoos,  a  prophetic  bird  of  unrivalled  vatic 
ability.  The  Greeks  thought  their  own  cuckoo  had  in- 
herited some  of  these  qualities,  for  they  made  it  one  of 
the  birds  in  the  Olympian  aviary  of  Zeus,  who,  please  re- 
member, was  the  pluvial  god. 

Plainly  this  rainy-day  character  was  given  to  the  bird 
through  the  circumstance  that  in  southern  Asia,  as  in 
southern  Europe,  the  cuckoo  is  one  of  the  earliest  and 
quite  the  most  conspicuous  of  spring-birds — and  the 
spring  is  the  rainy  season.  In  early  days  farmers  had 
little  knowledge  of  a  calendar.  They  sowed  and  reaped 
when  it  seemed  fitting  to  do  so.  The  coming  of  the  cuckoo 
coincided  with  experience,  and  came  to  be  their  almanac- 
date  for  certain  operations — a  signal  convenient  in  advice 
to  the  young,  or  to  a  newcomer;  and  as  a  rule  hoped-for 
showers  followed  the  bird's  advent.  In  the  same  way 
old-fashioned  Pennsylvania  farmers  used  to  connect  corn- 
planting  time  and  the  first-heard  singing  of  the  brown 

Hesiod  instructed   his  rural  countrymen  that  if  "it 


should  happen  to  rain  three  days  in  succession  when  the 
cuckoo  sings  among  the  oak-trees,  then  late  sowing  will 
be  as  good  as  early  sowing" — doubtless  good  agricultural 
counsel.  Not  more  than  a  century  ago  English  farmers 
thought  it  necessary  to  sow  barley  when  the  earliest  note 
of  the  cuckoo  was  heard  in  order  to  insure  a  full  crop. 
Mr.  Friend11  reasons  thus  about  this:  "As  the  cuckoo 
only  returns  to  our  shores  at  a  certain  time,  it  has  been 
customary  to  predict  from  his  appearance  what  kind  of 
season  will  follow;  and  farmers  have  in  all  ages  placed 
great  reliance  on  omens  of  weather  and  crops  drawn  from 
this  source.  ...  In  Berwickshire  those  oats  which  are 
sown  after  the  first  of  April  are  called  'gowk's'  [cuckoo's] 
oats  .  .  . 

Cuckoo  oats  and  wood  cock  hay 

Make  a  farmer  run  away. 

If  the  spring  is  so  backward  that  the  oats  cannot  be  sown 
until  the  cuckoo  is  heard,  or  the  autumn  so  wet  that  the 
hay  cannot  be  gathered  in  until  the  woodcocks  come  over, 
the  farmer  is  sure  to  suffer  great  loss." 

So  much  for  these  old  maxims;  and  when  British  or 
Italian  immigrants  became  colonists  in  America,  and 
found  cuckoos  here,  they  continued  the  sayings,  regard- 
less of  difference  in  climate  and  other  circumstances.  Our 
species  are  not  early  migrants  in  spring,  are  poor  guides 
for  planters,  and  seem  to  have  no  prophetic  gift,  yet  they 
are  rain-birds  because  their  ancestral  relatives  in  India 
were  such  3,000  years  ago. 



IF  anyone  should  ask  you  how  a  particular  bird  came 
to  be  blue  or  red  or  streaked,  or  how  it  happened 
that  birds  in  general  differ  in  colors  and  other  fea- 
tures, "each  after  its  kind,"  in  other  words  how  specific 
distinctions  came  about,  you,  a  liberal-minded  and  well- 
read  person,  would  undoubtedly  answer  that  each  and  all 
"developed"  these  specific  characteristics.  You  might  go 
on  to  explain  that  they  resulted  from  the  combined  influ- 
ences of  natural  and  sexual  selection,  to  the  latter  of 
which  birds  are  supposed  to  be  especially  susceptible,  and 
thereby  show  yourself  a  good  Darwinist. 

But  primitive  thinkers,  like  children,  are  not  evolution- 
ists but  creationists.  They  believe  that  things  were  made 
as  they  are:  if  so,  somebody  made  them.  They  are  con- 
vinced that  no  person  like  themselves  or  any  of  their  ac- 
quaintances could  do  it,  so  they  attribute  the  feat  to  some 
being  with  superhuman  powers.  This  being  is  almost  al- 
ways the  mythical  ancestor,  pristine  instructor  or  "cul- 
ture-hero," of  the  nation,  tribe  or  clan  to  which  the 
thinker  belongs ;  and  it  is  perfectly  natural  and  a  matter 
of  course  to  assume  that  he  had  magical  functions  and 
supernatural  powers.  Next,  some  genius  invents  a  story 
to  fit  the  case,  and  as  anything  is  possible  to  such  a  being 
as  the  hero  it  is  adopted  and  passed  into  the  tribal  history 
that  the  elders  recount  by  the  evening  fire,  and  that  every- 



body  accepts  without  suspicion  or  criticism.  The  He- 
brews, for  example,  said  that  Adam,  their  "first  man," 
"gave  names  to  all  cattle,  and  to  the  fowl  of  the  air,  and 
to  every  beast  of  the  field;  .  .  .  and  whatsoever  Adam 
called  every  living  creature  that  was  the  name  thereof." 
As  to  his  reasons  for  giving  this  name  to  one  creature 
and  another  to  that,  it  has  been  whimsically  explained  that 
he  called  the  raccoon  that  because  "it  looked  like  a  'coon'  " 
— quite  as  good  a  reason  as  the  legend  requires. 

Now  the  two  questions  at  the  beginning  of  this  chapter 
were,  in  fact,  asked  by  a  great  variety  of  our  aboriginal 
Americans,  the  red  Indians,  and  undoubtedly  by  the  ab- 
origines of  most  other  countries ;  but  for  the  present  let  us 
stick  to  North  America. 

When  some  bright-witted,  inquisitive  Iroquois  young- 
ster, hearing  and  seeing  many  birds  on  a  soft  June  morn- 
ing, asked  his  mother  how  it  happened  that  they  wore 
such  a  diversity  of  plumages,  she  told  him  this  story:  In 
the  beginning  the  birds  were  naked,  but  some  of  them  be- 
came ashamed,  and  cried  for  coverings.  (In  those  days, 
of  course,  birds  talked  with  one  another,  and  even  with 
the  wiser  sort  of  men.)  They  were  told  that  their  suits 
were  ready  but  were  a  long  way  off.  At  last  the  turkey- 
buzzard  was  persuaded  to  go  and  get  them.  He  had  been 
a  clean  bird,  but  during  the  long  journey  had  to  eat  much 
carrion  and  filth,  hence  his  present  nature.  Guided  by 
the  gods  he  reached  the  store  of  plumages,  and  selfishly 
chose  for  himself  the  most  beautifully  colored  dress,  but 
as  he  found  he  could  not  fly  in  it  he  was  forced  to  take 
his  present  one,  which  enables  him  to  soar  most  grace- 
fully. Finally  he  brought  their  varied  suits  to  the  other 

The  Iroquois  lad  would  be  quite  satisfied  with  this 


account  of  the  matter ;  but  a  boy  on  the  opposite  side  of 
the  continent  would  get  a  very  different  explanation.  He 
would  be  told  that  Raven  did  it.  Raven — or  the  raven — 
was  the  mythical  ancestor  or  culture  hero,  as  ethnologists 
would  say,  of  the  foremost  clan  of  the  Tlingit  tribe, 
whose  territory  was  in  southern  Alaska.  He  was  present 
at  the  making  of  the  world  and  its  people,  and  did  many 
marvellous  things.  While  he  was  at  Sitka  arranging 
affairs  in  the  new  world  he  assigned  to  all  the  birds,  one 
by  one,  the  place  of  their  resort  and  their  habits,  and  his 
good  nature  is  shown  by  the  fact  that  to  the  robin  and 
the  hummingbird  he  assigned  the  duty  of  giving  pleasure 
to  men,  the  former  by  its  song  and  the  latter  by  its  beauty. 
By  and  by  the  birds  dressed  one  another  in  different  ways, 
so  that  they  might  easily  be  recognized  apart.  They  tied 
the  hair  of  the  blue  jay  up  high  with  a  string,  put  a  striped 
coat  on  the  little  woodpecker,  and  so  on.  The  Kwakiutl 
coastal  Indians  of  British  Columbia  deny  this,  however. 
They  say  the  birds  did  not  select  their  own  costumes,  but 
that  one  of  their  ancestors  painted  all  the  birds  he  found 
at  a  certain  place.  When  he  reached  the  cormorant  his 
colors  were  exhausted  and  he  had  only  charcoal  left,  hence 
the  cormorant  is  wholly  black. 

George  Keith,"  who  in  1807  was  a  fur-trader  on  the 
Mackenzie  River,  gathered  and  recorded  much  valuable 
material  as  to  the  customs  and  ideas  of  the  Beaver 
Indians  of  that  region,  who  belonged  to  the  Ojibway 
family.  In  one  of  his  stories  Keith  gives  the  Indians'  ex- 
planation of  how  certain  birds  got  their  colors:  it  was 
during  the  time  of  a  great  flood.  At  that  period  all  birds 
were  white,  but  lepervier  (the  sharp-shinned  hawk), 
l'emerillon  (the  goshawk),  and  l'canard  de  France 
(mallard)  agreed  to  change  to  a  plumage  in  colors — how 


it  was  to  be  done  the  Indians  were  unable  to  say.     The 
story  proceeds: 

Immediately  after  this  event  the  corbeau  [raven]  made  his 
appearance.  "Come,"  says  l'epervier  to  the  corbeau,  "would  you 
not  wish  to  have  a  coat  like  mine?"  "Hold  your  tongue!"  re- 
joined the  corbeau.  "With  your  crooked  bill  is  not  white  hand- 
somer than  any  other  color?"  The  others  argued  with  the 
corbeau  to  consent,  but  he  remained  inflexible,  which  so 
exasperated  l'epervier  and  the  others  that  they  determined  to 
avenge  this  affront,  and  each  taking  a  burnt  coal  in  his  bill 
they  blacked  him  all  over.  The  corbeau,  enraged  at  this  treat- 
ment, and  determined  not  to  be  singular,  espied  a  flock  of 
etourneaux  [blackbirds]  and,  without  shaking  off  the  black  dust 
of  his  feathers,  threw  himself  amongst  them  and  bespattered 
them  all  over  with  black,  which  is  the  reason  for  their  still  re- 
taining this  color. 

Further  south,  on  Puget  Sound,  once  lived  the  tribe  of 
Twanas,  who  held  that  in  former  times  men  painted 
themselves  in  various  hues,  whereupon  Dokblatt,  their 
culture-hero,  who  notoriously  was  fond  of  changing 
things,  turned  these  men  into  birds,  which  explains  the 
present  diversity  in  avian  plumage. 

The  Arawaks  of  Venezuela,  however,  account  for  this 
matter  by  saying  that  the  birds  obtained  their  gay  feathers 
by  selecting  parts  of  a  huge,  gaudily  colored  water-snake 
that  the  cormorant  killed  for  them  by  diving  into  the 
water;  yet  the  cormorant,  with  great  modesty,  kept  for 
himself  only  the  snake's  head,  which  was  blackish. 

Most  explanatory  stories  concern  single  kinds  of  birds, 
and  inform  us  how  they  got  the  peculiar  features  by  which 
we  identify  them  with  their  names ;  and  here  we  get  back 
to  the  nearctic  raven.  A  history  of  the  exploits  of  this 
personage — bird,  bird-man  or  bird-god — who  is  the  hero 
of  more  tales  than  any  other  of  the  giants  that  flourished 



in  the  formative  period  of  the  northern  Indian's  world, 
would  fill  a  big  book.  'The  creator  of  all  things  and 
the  benefactor  of  man  was  the  great  raven  called  by  the 
Thlingit  Yel,  Yeshil  or  Yeatl,  and  by  the  Haida  Ne-kil- 
stlas.  He  was  not  exactly  an  ordinary  bird  but  had  .  .  . 
many  human  attributes,  and  the  power  of  transforming 
himself  into  anything  in  the  world.  His  coat  of  feathers 
could  be  put  on  or  taken  off  at  will  like  a  garment,  and  he 
could  assume  any  character  whatever.  He  existed  before 
his  birth,  never  grows  old,  and  will  never  die."  So  Mr. 
(now  Admiral)  Niblack,  U.  S.  N.,  characterized  this 
supreme  magician;100  and  Dr.  E.  W.  Nelson101  adds 
that  this  creation-legend  is  believed  by  the  Eskimos 
from  the  Kuskoquim  River  in  southern  Alaska  northward 
to  Bering  Strait,  and  thence  eastward  all  along  the  Arctic 
Coast.  The  purely  mythological  relation  of  this  widely 
revered  northwestern  raven  is  thus  summarized  by 
Brinton 27 : 

This  father  of  the  race  is  represented  as  a  mighty  bird,  called 
Yel,  or  Yale,  or  Orelbale,  from  the  root  [Athabascan]  ell,  a 
term  they  apply  to  everything  supernatural.  He  took  to  wife  a 
daughter  of  the  Sun  (the  Woman  of  Light),  and  by  her  begat 
the  race  of  men.  He  formed  the  dry  land  for  a  place  for  them 
to  live  upon,  and  stocked  the  rivers  with  salmon  that  they  might 
have  food.  When  he  enters  his  nest  it  is  day,  but  when  he  leaves 
it  it  is  night;  or,  according  to  another  myth,  he  has  two  women 
for  wives,  the  one  of  whom  makes  the  day,  the  other  the  night. 
In  the  beginning  Yel  was  white  in  plumage,  but  he  had  an 
enemy  ...  by  whose  machinations  he  was  turned  black.  Yel  is 
further  represented  as  the  god  of  the  winds  and  storms,  and  of 
the  thunder  and  lightning. 

It  is  plain  that  in  studying  the  deeds  and  accidents 
attributed  to  this  American  member  of  the  sun-born 
"fabulous  flock"  described  in  another  chapter,  it  is  often 


difficult  to  separate  Raven  the  demigod,  from  the  sable, 
kawing,  cunning  bird  so  conspicuous  all  over  northern 
Canada;  and  in  this  respect  Yel  differs  from  Rukh, 
Simurgh,  and  the  other  similar  figments  of  Oriental 
fancies,  in  that  he  is  modelled  upon  a  real  bird,  rather  than 
on  something  utterly  unknown  to  earthly  ornithology. 

A  favorite  tale  with  many  variants  describes  how  the 
cormorant  lost  its  voice.  As  the  Haidas  of  Queen 
Charlotte  Islands  tell  it,  Raven  once  invited  the  cormorant 
to  go  a-fishing  with  him.  The  cormorant  went,  and 
naturally  caught  many  fish,  while  the  Raven  took  none. 
Then  Raven,  angry  made  the  cormorant  stick  out  its 
tongue.  'There  is  something  on  it,"  quoth  Raven,  and 
pulled  the  tongue  out  by  the  roots;  and  that  is  why 
cormorants  have  no  voice.* 

Here  Raven  is  plainly  the  supernatural,  irresponsible 
being  of  Totemic  importance,  who  often  presented  him- 
self as  a  man  or  in  some  other  form,  for  he  could  assume 
any  shape  he  liked.  Thus  the  Hudson  Bay  Eskimos  relate 
that  Raven  was  a  man  who  loudly  cautioned  persons  when 
moving  a  village-camp  not  to  forget  the  deer-skin  under- 
blanket  called  "kak":  so  he  got  that  nickname,  and 
ravens  still  fly  about  fussily  calling  kak!  kak!  The  Tlingits 
also  have  a  story  in  which  Raven  begins  the  action  as  a 
man,  and  ends  plain  bird — an  outwitted  one  at  that.  Raven 
was  in  a  house  and  played  a  trick  on  Petrel,  then  tried  to 
get  away  by  flying  up  through  the  smoke-hole  in  the 

*  The  cormorant  was  once  a  wool-merchant.  He  entered  into  a 
partnership  with  the  bramble  and  the  bat,  and  they  freighted  a  large 
ship  with  wool.  She  was  wrecked  and  the  firm  became  bankrupt. 
Since  that  disaster  the  bat  skulks  about  until  midnight  to  avoid  his 
creditors,  the  cormorant  is  forever  diving  into  the  deep  to  discover 
its  foundered  vessel,  while  the  bramble  seizes  hold  of  every  pass- 
ing sheep  to  make  up  the  firm's  loss  by  stealing  the  wool.  This  is 
an  ancient  European  story  quite  as  silly  as  the  Haida  one. 


roof,  but  got  stuck  there.  Seeing  this  Petrel  built  a  birch- 
wood  fire  under  him,  so  as  to  make  much  smoke.  The 
raven  was  white  before  that  time,  but  the  smudge 
blackened  him  forever. 

The  Greenland  Eskimos  account  for  the  change  in  the 
raven  from  white  to  black  by  the  story  of  its  vexing  the 
snow-owl,  which  was  its  fast  friend  in  the  ancient  days 
before  marvels  became  marvellous.  One  day  the  raven 
made  a  new  dress,  dappled  black  and  white  (the  summer 
plumage),  for  the  owl,  which  in  return  fashioned  a  pair 
of  whalebone  boots  for  the  raven,  and  also  a  white  dress, 
as  was  proper  for  ravens  at  that  time ;  but  the  raven  would 
not  stay  quiet  while  it  was  tried  on.  The  owl  shouted 
angrily,  "Sit  still  or  I  shall  pour  the  lamp  over  you!" 
Nevertheless  the  bird  kept  hopping  about  until  the  owl, 
out  of  patience,  picked  up  the  soapstone  saucer-lamp  and 
drenched  him  with  the  sooty  lamp-oil.  Since  then  the 
ever-restless  raven  has  been  black  all  over. 

The  Haidas  say  that  the  crow  likewise  was  originally 
white,  and  that  on  one  occasion  Raven  turned  it  black  as 
a  spiteful  sort  of  joke. 

It  is  interesting  to  recall  that  in  classic  myth  ravens 
were  once  as  white  as  swans  and  as  large ;  but  one  day  a 
raven  told  his  patron,  Apollo,  that  Coronis,  a  Thessalian 
nymph  whom  he  passionately  loved,  was  faithless,  where- 
upon the  god  shot  the  nymph  with  his  dart,  but  hating 
the  telltale  bird 

...  he  blacked  the  raven  o'er 

And  bid  him  prate  in  his  white  plumes  no  more, 

as  Ovid  sings  in  Addison's  translation.  Some  accounts 
say  that  one  of  Odin's  messenger-ravens  was  white. 
To  this  day  the  peasants  about  Brescia,  in  Italy,  speak 


of  January  30  and  31,  and  February  1,  as  "blackbird 
days,"  and  explained  that  many  years  ago  the  local  black- 
birds were  white;  but  in  one  hard  winter  it  was  so  cold 
these  thrushes  were  compelled  to  take  refuge  in  chimneys, 
and  ever  since  have  worn  a  sooty  plumage. 

This  belief  that  the  sable  brotherhood  of  the  crow-tribe 
was  once  white  seems  to  be  universal,  and  perhaps  arises 
in  the  equally  general,  albeit  somewhat  childish,  feeling 
that  nothing  is  as  it  used  to  be;  and  coupled  with  this  is 
the  similarly  common  feeling  that  every  event  or  con- 
dition ought  to  be  accounted  for.  Thus  we  get  a  glimpse 
at  the  psychology  in  these  primitive  stories  of  the  reason 
why  this  and  that  animal  is  as  we  see  it.  Skeat 7  found 
among  the  Malays,  for  example,  a  legend  that  in  the  days 
of  King  Solomon  the  argus  pheasant  was  dowdily 
dressed,  and  it  besought  the  crow  to  paint  its  plumage  in 
splendid  colors.  The  crow  complied  and  gave  the 
pheasant  its  present  beautifully  variegated  costume;  but 
when  the  artist  asked  for  a  similar  service  toward  itself 
from  the  pheasant  the  latter  not  only  refused  but  spilt  a 
bottle  of  ink  over  the  crow. 

To  return  to  the  erratic,  and  usually  mischievous  career 
of  Yel,  the  Northwestern  (raven)  culture-hero,  it  is  re- 
membered that  often,  kindly  or  unkindly,  he  changed 
sundry  birds  besides  owls  from  something  else  into  their 
present  form.  For  example,  he  sent  a  hawk  into  the 
Tlingit  country  after  fire.  Previously  the  hawk's  bill 
had  been  long,  but  in  bringing  the  fire  this  long  beak  was 
burned  short,  and  has  ever  remained  so.  Nelson101 
learned  from  Alaskan  Eskimos  why  the  short-eared  owl 
has  so  diminutive  a  beak,  nearly  hidden  in  the  feathers  of 
the  flat  face.  This  owl,  it  appears,  was  once  a  little  girl 
who  lived  in  a  village  by  the  lower  Yukon.     "She  was 


changed  by  magic  into  a  bird  with  a  long  bill,  and  became 
so  frightened  that  she  sprang  up  and  flew  off  in  an  erratic 
way  until  she  struck  the  side  of  a  house,  flattening  her 
beak  and  face  so  that  she  became  just  as  the  owls  are  seen 

Raven  made  woodpeckers  (red-shafted  flickers)  out  of 
the  blood  that  gushed  from  his  nose  after  he  had  bruised 
it ;  and  Haida  fishermen  now  tie  scarlet  flicker  feathers  to 
their  halibut  hooks  "for  luck."  Their  neighbors,  the 
Clalams,  thought  it  better  to  use  a  piece  of  kingfisher  skin 
— and  in  my  opinion  their  reasoning  was  the  sounder  of 
the  two.  Perhaps  it  was  Raven  whom  the  Tshimshian 
Indians  of  Nass  River  meant  when  they  spoke  of 
"Giant's"  treatment  of  the  gulls.  The  Giant,  as  Pro- 
fessor Boaz  heard  it  designated,  had  some  oolachans 
(smelts)  and  stuck  them  on  sticks  to  roast  by  his  fire. 
"When  they  were  done  a  gull  appeared  over  the  Giant. 
Then  the  Giant  called  him  'Little  Gull/  Then  many 
gulls  came,  which  ate  all  the  Giant's  oolachans.  They  said 
while  they  were  eating  it  qana,  qana,  qana!  Then  he  was 
sad.  Therefore  he  took  the  gulls  and  threw  them  into 
the  fireplace,  and  ever  since  the  tips  of  their  wings  have 
been  black." 

The  culture-hero  of  the  Twana  Indians  of  the  Puget 
Sound  region  was  Dokibat,  as  has  been  mentioned,  who 
had  a  habit  of  changing  things,  turning  men  into  stones 
or  birds,  and  so  forth.  A  boy  hearing  that  he  was  com- 
ing, and  fearing  some  unpleasant  transformation,  ran 
away,  carrying  with  him  a  water-box  (used  in  canoe- 
journeys  by  sea)  with  water  in  it.  The  water  shaking 
about  sounded  somewhat  like  pu-pn-pu  when  repeated 
rapidly ;  but  as  the  boy  ran  wings  came  to  him  and  he  be- 
gan to  fly,  and  the  noise  in  the  box  sounded  like  the  cooing 


of  the  wood-dove,  which  the  Twans  called  "hum-o."  A 
man  was  pounding  against  a  cedar-tree.  Dokibat  came 
along  and  asked  him  what  he  was  doing.  "Trying  to 
break  or  split  this  tree,"  was  the  answer.  Dokibat  said: 
"You  may  stop  and  go  away,  and  I  will  help  you."  As 
the  woodman  went  wings  came  to  him,  also  a  long  bill  and 
a  strong  head,  and  he  became  a  woodpecker. 

How  the  woodpecker  got  the  red  mark  on  the  back  of 
its  head,  which  is  a  characteristic  of  most  species,  is  ex- 
plained by  the  Algonkins  thus,  according  to  School- 
craft:102 Manabozho,  the  renowned  culture-hero  of  the 
Ojibways  and  their  relatives,  made  a  campaign  against 
the  Shining  Manito,  and  at  last,  finding  him  in  his  lair,  a 
mortal  combat  began.  At  length  Manabozho  had  left 
only  three  arrows,  and  the  fight  was  going  against  him. 
Ma-ma,  the  woodpecker,  cried  out:  "Shoot  him  at  the 
base  of  the  scalp-lock;  it  is  his  only  vulnerable  spot!" 
(The  Indians  have  many  stories  turning  on  this  point, 
and  reminding  us  of  that  of  Achilles.)  Then  with  the 
third  and  last  arrow  Manabozho  hit  the  fatal  spot,  and 
taking  the  scalp  of  the  Shining  Manito  as  a  trophy  he 
rubbed  blood  from  it  on  the  woodpecker's  head,  which 
remains  red  in  his  descendants.  That  the  redheaded 
species  (Melanerpes  torquatus),  abundant  in  summer  in 
the  O  jib  way  country,  is  meant  here  is  evident  from  the 
further  statement  that  its  red  feathers  were  thereafter 
regarded  as  symbols  of  valor,  and  were  chosen  to  orna- 
ment the  warriors'  pipes,  for  no  other  woodpecker  of  the 
region  could  furnish  enough  such  feathers  to  answer  the 

The  Menominees,  of  southern  Wisconsin,  had  a  dif- 
ferent story  relating  to  the  scarlet  crest  of  another  kind 
of  woodpecker.     They  say  that  Ball-carrier,  who  was  a 


bad-tempered  sort  of  fellow  among  their  demigods, 
promised  the  logcock,  or  big  black  woodpecker  of  the 
forest,  that  if  he  would  kill  a  certain  Cannibal-Woman  he 
should  have  a  piece  of  her  scalp  with  its  lock  of  red  hair. 
So  the  bird  rushed  at  her  and  drove  his  chisel-like  beak 
into  her  heart.  Then  Ball-carrier  gave  her  red  scalp-lock 
to  the  logcock,  which  placed  it  on  his  own  head,  as  one 
may  see  now.  In  Indo-European  mythology  woodpeckers 
figure  among  lightning-birds,  and  the  red  mark  on  their 
heads  is  deemed  the  badge  of  their  office. 

The  need  of  accounting  for  notable  features  like  this 
in  animals  seems  to  have  appealed  to  all  sorts  of  people, 
all  around  the  world,  in  each  case  according  to  local  ideas. 
Thus  an  Arabic  tradition  current  in  Palestine  accounts 
for  the  fork  in  the  tail  of  swallows  by  the  fact  that  a  bird 
of  this  species  baffled  a  scheme  of  the  Old  Serpent  (Eblis) 
in  Paradise,  whereupon  the  serpent  struck  at  it,  but  suc- 
ceeded only  in  biting  out  a  notch  in  the  middle  of  its  tail. 
Another  example:    Nigerian  negros  say  that  the  vulture 
got  its  bald  head  by  malicious  transference  of  a  disease 
with  which  a  green  pigeon  had  been  suffering — a  native 
guess  at  the  filth-bacteria  to  which  modern  zoologists  at- 
tribute the  nakedness!     Oddly  enough,   a   folk-tale  in 
Louisiana,  related  by  Fortier,106  similarly  explains  the 
baldness  of  our  turkey-buzzard  by  saying  it  came  from 
a  pan  of  hot  ashes  thrown  at  the  vulture's  head  in  revenge 
for  an  injury  it  had  committed  on  a  rabbit — and  "buz- 
zards never  eat  bones  of  rabbits." 

The  Iowas  account  for  the  peculiar  baldness  of  this 
bird  by  a  long  story  recounted  by  Spence  12  in  which 
their  mythical  hero  Ictinike  figures.  Ictinike  asked  a 
buzzard  to  carry  him  toward  a  certain  place.  The  crafty 
bird  consented,  but  presently  dropped  him  in  a  tall  hollow 


tree.  Ictinike  was  wearing  'coonskins,  and  when 
presently  some  persons  came  along  he  thrust  their  tails 
through  cracks  in  the  trunk.  Three  women,  thinking 
that  raccoons  had  become  imprisoned  in  the  tree,  cut  a 
hole  to  capture  them,  whereupon  Ictinike  came  out  and 
the  women  ran  away.  Then  Ictinike  lay  down  wrapped 
in  his  furs  as  if  asleep,  and  an  eagle,  a  crow,  and  a  magpie 
came  and  began  pecking  at  him.  The  buzzard,  thinking 
this  meant  a  feast,  rushed  down  from  the  sky,  and 
Ictinike  jumped  up  and  tore  off  its  scalp,  since  which  the 
buzzard  has  been  bald. 

But  many  explanations  of  why  birds  are  now  so  or  so 
make  no  mention  of  Ravens  or  Ictinikes,  but  just  tell  you 
the  fact.  Thus  the  Eskimos  of  northwestern  Alaska  re- 
late that  one  autumn  day  very  long  ago  the  cranes  pre- 
pared to  go  southward.  As  they  were  gathered  in  a  great 
flock  they  saw  a  beautiful  girl  standing  alone  near  a  vil- 
lage. Admiring  her  greatly,  the  cranes  gathered  about 
her,  and  lifting  her  on  their  wide-spread  wings  bore  her 
far  up  and  away.  While  the  cranes  were  taking  her  aloft 
their  brethren  circled  about  below  her  so  closely  that  she 
could  not  fall,  and  with  hoarse  cries  drowned  her  screams 
for  help.  So  she  was  swept  away  into  the  sky,  and 
never  seen  again.  Always  since  that  time  the  cranes  have 
circled  about  in  autumn,  uttering  loud  cries. 

The  Hudson  Bay  Eskimos  tell  their  boys  and  girls 
when  they  see  the  funny  little  guillemots  by  the  sea-cliffs 
and  ask  about  them,  that  once  a  lot  of  children  were  play- 
ing near  the  brink  of  such  a  precipice.  Their  noisy  shouts 
disturbed  a  band  of  seal-hunters  on  the  strand  below; 
and  one  of  the  men  exclaimed,  "I  wish  the  cliff  would 
topple  over  and  bury  those  noisy  children !"  In  a 
moment  the  height  did  so,   and  the  poor  infants   fell 


among  the  rocks  below.  There  they  were  changed  into 
guillemots  and  dwell  to  this  day  on  the  crags  at  the  edge 
of  the  sea. 

Another  juvenile  story  explains  that  the  swallows  be- 
came what  they  are  by  a  change  from  Eskimo  children 
who  were  making  "play-house"  igloos  of  mud  on  the 
top  of  a  cliff.  To  this  day  the  swallows  come  every  sum- 
mer and  fix  their  mud  nests  to  the  rocks,  recalling  their 
childish  joy  in  the  previous  state  of  their  existence. 
Hence  the  Eskimo  children  particularly  love  to  watch 
these  birds  in  their  "igluiaks,"  which  are  said  not  to  be 
molested  by  the  predatory  ravens. 

Once  a  long  war  was  fought  between  the  brants  and 
the  herons,  according  to  a  Tlingit  legend,  but  at  last  the 
swans  intervened  and  a  peace  was  arranged.  To  celebrate 
it  the  herons  indulged  in  much  dancing,  and  have  been 
dancers  ever  since.  I  am  inclined  to  think  this  another 
crane  legend,  because  the  few  herons  known  in  the  Tlingit 
country  do  not  indulge  in  such  antics,  whereas  the 
cranes  do  "dance"  a  great  deal  in  the  mating-season. 
These  Indians,  by  the  way,  say  that  they  learned  the  use 
of  pickaxes  by  watching  a  heron  strike  the  ground  with 
its  beak;  and  the  suggestion  of  snowshoes  was  caught 
from  the  ptarmigan,  on  whose  feet  grow  in  winter  ex- 
pansions of  the  toes  that  serve  to  make  it  easier  for  the 
bird  to  walk  on  snow. 

The  ruffed  grouse,  the  Ojibways  declare,  was  marked 
with  eleven  spots  on  its  tail  to  remind  him  of  the  time 
when  he  wouldn't  do  as  he  was  told,  and  had  to  fast 
eleven  days  as  a  punishment.  On  the  other  hand  Mana- 
bozho  rewarded  the  kingfisher  for  some  useful  informa- 
tion by  hanging  a  medal  (in  color)  about  its  neck;  but  in 
bestowing  the  medal  Manabozho  snatched  at  the  king- 


fisher's  head,  intending  to  twist  it  off — a  very  character- 
istic dodge  of  these  treacherous  old  culture-heroes — but 
only  rumpled  the  bird's  crest,  so  that  it  has  been  a  ragged 
sort  of  headdress  ever  since. 

The  extinct  Chitimacha  Indians  of  northern  Louisiana 
had  a  tale  that  a  man  set  the  marshes  on  fire,  and  a  little 
bird  uprose  through  the  smoke  and  remonstrated.  The 
man  was  angry  and  threw  a  shell  at  the  bird,  which 
wounded  its  wings  and  made  them  bleed,  and  thus  the 
red-winged  blackbird  got  its  scarlet  shoulders. 

A  familiar  and  active  little  shrike  of  the  northern 
border  of  South  America  is  the  kiskadee,  with  a  con- 
spicuous white  mark  on  its  head.  The  Arawaks  say  that 
this  radiant  little  songster,  which  has  the  same  sort  of 
fierce  hostility  to  hawks  and  other  large  birds  as  dis- 
tinguishes our  doughty  kingbird,  got  tired  of  a  war  that 
was  going  on  among  the  animals,  put  a  white  bandage 
around  its  head  and  pretended  to  be  sick.  The  war 
halted  long  enough  to  expose  the  fraud  of  the  little  mal- 
ingerer, and  kiskadees  were  sentenced  to  wear  the  white 
bandage  perpetually. 

Arawak  story-tellers  also  relate  that  the  trumpeter 
(Psophia)  and  a  kingfisher  quarrelled  over  the  spoils  of 
war,  and  knocked  each  other  into  the  ashes,  which  ac- 
counts for  the  gray  of  their  plumage.  The  nakedness  of 
the  trumpeter's  legs  is  owing  to  his  stepping  into  an 
ant's  nest,  and  getting  them  picked  clean.  The  owl  dis- 
covered a  package  among  the  spoil  of  the  war  that  con- 
tained only  darkness,  since  which  that  bird  cannot  endure 
daylight.  It  is  interesting  to  compare  with  this  the  ad- 
venture of  the  trumpeter  current  among  the  Maquiritares, 
which  is  related  elsewhere. 

So  the  stories  go  on.    The  Pimas,  for  example,  believe 


that  the  mountain  bluebird  was  originally  an  unlovely 
gray,  but  acquired  its  present  exquisite  azure  coat  by 
bathing  in  a  certain  lake  of  blue  water  that  had  neither 
inlet  nor  outlet.  It  bathed  in  this  regularly  for  four 
mornings.  On  the  fourth  morning  it  shed  all  its  plumage 
and  came  out  with  the  skin  bare ;  but  on  the  fifth  morn- 
ing it  emerged  from  its  bath  with  a  coat  of  blue. 

This  tradition  is  somewhat  sentimental,  as  befits  the 
sweetly  warbling  and  beloved  bluebird,  which  is  not  only 
a  favorite,  but  has  a  certain  sacredness  in  the  southwest ; 
but  often,  in  the  majority  of  cases  perhaps,  a  rough 
humor  tinges  the  history.  Thus  Manabush,  a  mythical  an- 
cestor of  the  Menominees,  once  assembled  all  the  birds 
by  a  subterfuge,  and  then  killed  several.  The  little  grebe, 
or  "hell-diver,"  was  one  of  those  chosen  for  death,  and 
as  it  was  a  poor  runner  it  was  easily  caught.  Manabush 
said  contemptuously,  "I  won't  kill  you,  but  you  shall  al- 
ways have  red  eyes  and  be  the  laughing-stock  of  all  the 
birds."  With  that  he  gave  the  poor  bird  a  kick,  sending 
it  far  out  into  Lake  Michigan  and  knocking  off  its  tail, 
so  that  the  hell-diver  is  red-eyed  and  almost  tailless  to  this 

I  have  restricted  this  chapter  mainly  to  examples  from 
the  folklore  of  the  American  Indians,  but,  were  there  not 
danger  of  becoming  tedious,  many  more  might  be  quoted 
from  the  fireside  tales  of  other  countries,  especially 
Africa.  African  traditions,  however,  can  hardly  be  held 
to  account  for  the  following  explanations  by  some 
Southern  darkies  as  given  by  Martha  Young2: 

The  bluejay  was  yoked  into  a  plow  by  the  sparrow,  and  the 
necklace-like  mark  on  his  breast  is  the  mark  left  by  the  yoke 
worn  in  this  degrading  service. 

The  buzzard  originally  had  a  "fine  plume  sweepin'  from  de 


top  of  his  head,"  but  lost  it  in  a  quarrel  with  a  dog.  "Sense 
dat  day  Buzzard  don't  never  miss  fust  pickin'  out  de  eye  of 
ev'thing  that  he  gwine  eat,"  so  that  it  cannot  see  to  resist  if  it 
is  not  quite  dead. 

Darkies  say  that  the  hummingbird  lost  her  voice — "she  choke 
her  voice  clean  out  of  her  wid  honey" — through  being  so  greedy 
when  she  first  discovered  the  honey  in  flowers,  by  reason  of 
contracting  a  "swimmin'  in  de  head"  by  incessant  whirling,  as 
her  poising  on  wings  seems  to  the  negroes.  "She  hav  a  notion 
now  that  she  los'  her  voice  .  .  .  deep  in  some  flower.  She's 
al'a'rs  lookin'  fer  dat  los'  voice.  Flash  in  dis  flower !  Dash  in 
dat  flower !     But  she'll  nuvver,  nuvver  fin'  it." 

Charles  G.  Leland  quotes  in  his  Etruscan  Roman 
Remains  97  a  note  given  him  by  Miss  Mary  Owen,  of 
St.  Joseph,  Missouri,  that  the  negroes  and  half-breeds  in 
southern  Missouri  consider  the  redheaded  woodpecker 
a  great  sorcerer,  who  can  appear  as  either  a  bird  or  as 
a  redman  with  a  mantle  or  cloak  on  his  arm.  He  is  sup- 
posed to  be  very  grateful  or  very  vengeful  as  his  mood 
requires.  He  sometimes  bores  holes  in  the  heads  of  his 
enemies,  while  they  sleep,  and  puts  in  maggots  which  keep 
the  victims  forever  restless  and  crazy.  He  made  the 
bat  by  putting  a  rat  and  a  bird  together. 


NOTHING  in  nature,  except  perhaps  the  rising 
and  setting  of  the  sun,  has  impressed  mankind 
more  than  the  fearsome  phenomena  of  a  thun- 
der-storm. Such  a  storm  in  the  Rocky  Mountains,  or 
among  the  Californian  Sierras,  is  truly  terrifying  in  its 
magnificence,  and  it  is  none  the  less  so  in  the  Alps  or 
Himalayas  or  on  the  volcanic  summits  of  Central 
Africa.  The  lightnings  dart  about  the  darkly  clouded 
peaks,  and  the  thunder-crashes  leap  from  cliff  to  cliff 
in  echoes  that  stun  one,  for  they  seem  like  vast  iron 
missies  hurled  by  Titanic  strength,  and  rebounding  from 
crags  that  are  falling  in  prodigious  ruin — perhaps  on 
your  head. 

On  the  plains,  too,  such  a  storm  may  be  fearfully 
grand,  for  amid  rolling  thunders  and  a  tremendous 
downpour  of  rain  come  an  incessant  flash  and  sparkle 
of  lightnings  that  illuminate  the  prairie  with  a  violet 
flame  almost  blinding  in  its  glare.  A  person  who  did 
not  comprehend  the  physical  meaning  of  such  a  display 
might  well  be  excused  for  trembling  in  awe  and  terror — 
moreover,  the  danger  is  real. 

I  believe  that  almost  from  the  first  there  were  wise 
men,  the  philosophers  of  their  time,  who  understood  that 
the  clouds  were  fleeting  masses  of  fog,  that  rain  was 
the  water  pressed  out  of  them,  and  that  the  lightning 
and  its  associated  rumble  were  somehow  as  natural  as 



the  blowing  of  the  wind.  The  mass  of  wondering  and 
terrified  people,  however,  could  not  think  of  the  rush 
and  noise  and  glare  of  stormy  weather  otherwise  than 
as  something  produced  by  living  beings  of  huge,  mys- 
terious and  usually  destructive  power;  and  they  were 
as  real  to  them,  although  invisible,  as  are  the  electric 
currents  and  tremendous  air-vibrations  to  us.  Among 
the  aboriginal  Chinese  electricity  was  represented  as 
residing  on  the  mountains  in  the  form  of  birds,  and 
their  Thunder-god  is  pictured  with  a  bird's  beak  and 
claws,  and  armed  with  a  drum  and  hammer. 

'The  drama  of  mythology,"  De  Gubernatis  tells  us, 
"has  its  origin  in  the  sky;  but  the  sky  may  be  either 
clear  or  gloomy;  it  may  be  illumined  by  the  sun  or  by 
the  moon;  it  may  be  obscured  by  the  darkness  of  night, 
or  the  condensation  of  its  vapors  into  clouds.  .  .  .  The 
god  who  causes  rain  to  fall,  who  from  the  highest 
heaven  fertilizes  the  earth,  takes  the  form  now  of  a  ram, 
now  of  a  bull;  the  lightning  that  flies  like  a  winged 
arrow,  is  represented  now  as  a  bird,  now  as  winged 
horse;  and  thus,  one  after  another,  all  the  shifting  phe- 
nomena of  the  heavens  take  the  form  of  animals,  be- 
coming at  length  now  the  hero  himself,  now  the  animal 
that  waits  upon  the  hero,  and  without  which  he  would 
possess  no  supernatural  power  whatever." 

To  the  minds  of  the  redmen  in  the  eastern  part  of 
the  United  States  the  violent  storms  frequent  in  sum- 
mer were  somehow  produced  by  vague  supernatural 
beings  spoken  of  as  Thunder-gods;  but  on  the  open 
prairies  and  plains  of  the  West,  where  even  more  ter- 
rific electric  disturbances  occur,  and  also  along  the 
Northwest  Coast  and  in  Alaska,  they  were  attributed  to 
birds  of  enormous  size,  who  darkened  the  rain-clouds 



with  their  shadows  and  produced  thunder  by  flapping 
their  wings  and  lightning  by  opening  their  eyes,  shoot- 
ing naming  arrows,  and  so  forth.  Some  tribes  believed 
in  one  such  bird  only,  others  in  a  family  or  flock  of 
them  variously  colored,  while  still  others  declared  that 
the  agent  was  a  giant  who  clothed  himself  in  a  huge 
bird-skin  as  a  flying-dress. 

If  one  asked  what  any  one  of  these  creatures  was  like, 
the  answer  usually  was  that  it  resembled  a  colossal  eagle. 
The  Comanches  and  Arapahoes  described  it  to  Dr. 
Mooney  as  a  big  bird  with  a  brood  of  small  ones,  and 
said  that  it  carried  in  its  claws  a  quantity  of  arrows 
with  which  it  strikes  the  victims  of  lightning.  This 
reminds  us  of  the  bird  of  Jove  in  classic  fable,  clutching 
the  javelins  of  his  master,  the  Thunderer;  and  a  comic 
touch  is  that  these  southern  Indians  called  the  eagle 
stamped  on  our  coins  by  their  thunder-bird's  name, 
innocently  supposing  that  our  national  emblem  was  their 
"baa,"  the  lightning-maker! 

The  Mandans,  a  Dakotan  tribe,  say  that  the  thunder- 
bird  has  two  toes  on  each  foot — one  before  and  one 
behind;  and  the  Algonquian  Blackfeet  represent  it  on 
their  medicine-lodges  by  simply  drawing  four  black  bird- 
claws  on  a  yellow  shank.  When  it  flies  softly,  as  is  usually 
its  way,  according  to  the  Mandans,  it  is  not  heard  by 
mankind,  but  when  it  flaps  its  wings  violently  a  roaring 
noise  is  produced.  It  breaks  through  the  clouds  to  force 
a  way  for  the  rain,  and  the  glance  of  its  fiery  eyes 
appears  in  the  lightnings.  "We  don't  see  the  thunder- 
birds,"  a  Winnebago  Indian  explained.  "We  see  their 
flashes  only." 

This  terrifying  creature  dwelt  on  a  remote  mountain, 
or  on  some  rocky  elevation  difficult  of  access,  and  built 


a  nest  as  big  as  a  village,  surrounded  by  the  bones  and 
horns  of  the  great  animals  on  which  it  preyed.  Every 
tribal  district  seems  to  have  had  at  least  one  pair.  The 
Indians  about  Lake  Superior  believed  that  theirs  were 
at  home  on  the  beetling  heights  of  that  bold  promontory 
on  the  northern  shore  of  the  lake  long  celebrated  as 
Thunder  Cape.  This  is,  for  natural  reasons,  a  theatre 
of  electric  action,  which  the  Chippeways  accounted  for 
by  the  fiction  of  a  magic  bird — quite  as  natural  in  its 
way  as  is  the  meteorology.  At  any  rate  the  redmen 
feared  to  climb  the  mountain  and  prove  their  theory,  for 
they  said  men  had  been  struck  by  lightning  there  in  im- 
pious attempts  at  investigating  the  bird-god — the  old 
story  of  religious  interference  with  scientific  curiosity. 
These  same  people  held  that  their  thunder-bird  sat  on 
her  eggs  during  fair  weather,  and  hatched  out  her  brood 
in  the  storm — which  hatching  was  the  storm. 

"A  place,"  says  the  ethnologist  Mooney,77  "known  to 
the  Sioux  as  Waqkina-oye,  'the  Thunderer's  nest* — 
.  .  .  is  in  eastern  South  Dakota  in  the  neighborhood  of 
Big  Stone  Lake.  At  another  place,  near  the  summit 
of  the  Coteau  des  Prairies,  in  eastern  South  Dakota,  a 
number  of  large  round  boulders  are  pointed  out  as  the 
eggs  of  the  thunder-bird.  According  to  the  Comanches 
there  is  a  place  on  upper  Red  River  where  the  thunder- 
bird  once  alighted  on  the  ground.  .  .  .  The  same  people 
tell  how  a  hunter  once  shot  and  wounded  a  large  bird 
which  fell  to  the  ground.  Being  afraid  to  attack  it  alone 
on  account  of  its  size,  he  returned  to  camp  for  help, 
but  on  again  approaching  the  spot  the  hunters  heard 
the  thunder  rolling  and  saw  flashes  of  lightning  shoot- 
ing out  from  the  ravine  where  the  bird  lay  wounded. 
On  coming  nearer  the  lightning  blinded  them  so  that  they 


could  not  see  the  bird,  and  one  flash  struck  and  killed  a 
hunter.  His  frightened  companions  then  fled  back  to 
camp,  for  they  knew  it  was  a  thunder-bird." 

In  contrast  to  this  the  Eskimos  of  the  lower  Yukon 
Valley  tell  of  a  former  man  of  their  race  who  dared, 
after  others  had  failed,  to  raid  the  lair  of  and  kill  a 
gigantic  fowl  that  for  a  long  time  had  preyed  as  a 
"man-eater"  on  the  village  of  their  ancestors ;  'and  they 
have  held  this  man  in  high  honor  as  a  hero  to  this  day. 

This  conception  of  a  thunder-and-lightning-producing 
bird  has  a  prominent  place  among  the  notions  of  the 
native  inhabitants  of  the  northwestern  American  coast- 
country,  where  the  attributed  characteristics  and  deeds 
vary  with  local  surroundings  and  tribal  peculiarities.  In 
one  place  a  storm  was  supposed  to  result  from  its 
activity  in  catching  whales;  and  a  Chehalis  legend  has 
it  that  Thunderbird  sprang  from  a  whale  killed  by 
South  Wind.  As  soon  as  it  was  born  South  Wind  fol- 
lowed it,  and  Ootz-Hooi,  the  giantess,  found  its  nest 
and  threw  the  eggs  down  a  cliff.  From  these  eggs 
sprang  the  Chehalis  people.  The  Tlingit,  of  the  South- 
ern Alaskan  coast-region,  account  for  the  great  amount 
of  rain  that  falls  in  a  thunder-shower  by  explaining 
that  the  thunder-bird  carries  a  lake  on  its  back.  A  con- 
ventional representation  of  the  thunder-bird  as  it  appears 
to  the  Haidas  of  this  Northwest  Coast  decorates  the 
title-page  of  this  book. 

The  Salish  Indians  of  the  Thomson  River  region,  in 
southern  British  Columbia,  believe  that  the  thunder- 
bird  uses  its  wings  as  bows  to  shoot  arrows,  i.e.,  light- 
nings. 'The  rebound  of  his  wings  in  the  air,  after 
shooting,  makes  the  thunder.  For  this  reason  the 
thunder  is  often  heard  in  different  parts  of  the  sky  at 


once,  being  the  noise  from  each  wing.  The  arrowheads 
fired  by  the  thunder  are  found  in  many  parts  of  the 
country.  They  are  of  black  stone  and  of  very  large 
size."  The  last  statement  may  refer  to  meteoric  stones, 
or  it  may  be  purely  fanciful.  A  common  belief  among 
the  farmer-folk  of  Europe  is  that  the  smooth,  chisel- 
shaped  tools  or  weapons  of  prehistoric  (Neolithic)  men, 
frequently  turned  up  by  the  plow,  and  known  technically 
as  "celts,"  are  thunderbolts;  but  this  is  only  incidental 
to  the  present  theme. 

The  raven  is  a  hero-bird  among  the  Cherokees,  who 
say  that  he  became  black  by  attempting  to  bring  fire 
from  a  hollow  tree  that  had  been  set  on  fire  purposely 
by  "the  Thunderer"  by  means  of  lightning.  The  bird 
did  not  succeed,  and  blackened  its  plumage  forever. 

In  Japan  the  ptarmigan,  a  dweller  on  mountain-tops, 
is  called  rai-cho,  "thunder-bird,"  and  is  "sacred  to  the 
God  of  Thunder,"  as  Weston  expresses  it,  adding  that 
"pictures  of  them  are  often  hung  up  in  farmers'  cot- 
tages as  a  charm  against  lightning." 

Thunderstorms  are  usually  accompanied  by  much 
wind,  and  the  common  conception  of  birds  as  the  agent 
of  wind,  or  the  wind  itself,  has  been  exhibited  briefly 
in  another  chapter;  it  prevailed  not  only  among  our 
American  Indians  but  in  various  other  parts  of  the 
world,  including  South  Africa — or  did,  when  men  were 
less  skeptical  of  such  ideas  than  now.  In  ancient  San- 
skrit mythology  the  delicate  white  cirrus  cloud  drifting 
overhead  was  a  fleeting  swan,  and  so  also  was  it  in  the 
creed  of  the  early  Scandinavians  and  to  our  wild  Nava- 
hoes — a  good  illustration  not  only  of  independent  and 
parallel  images  for  an  idea,  but  of  the  likeness  of  human 
minds   under   great   diversity   of   race   and   conditions. 


Black  clouds  were  thought  of  by  the  Norse  folks  as 
"ravens  coursing  over  the  earth  and  returning  to  whisper 
the  news  in  the  ear  of  listening  Odin,"  as  Baring-Gould 
expresses  it.  The  immemorial  resemblance  traced  be- 
tween bird  and  cloud  is  not  far-fetched:  and  recurs  to 
the  modern  poet  as  it  did  in  olden  times  to  the  Psalmist 
when  he  spoke  of  the  wings  of  the  wind.  "The  rush- 
ing vapor  is  the  roc  of  the  Arabian  Nights,  which  broods 
over  its  great  luminous  tggf  the  sun,  and  which  haunts 
the  sparkling  Valley  of  Diamonds,  the  starry  sky.  .  .  . 
If  the  cloud  was  supposed  to  be  a  great  bird,  the  light- 
nings were  regarded  as  writhing  worms  or  serpents  in 
its  beak.  .  .  .  The  lightning-bolt,  shattering  all  it  struck, 
was  regarded  as  the  stone  dropped  by  the  cloud-bird."  5* 

In  the  Kalevala  Puhuri,  the  North  Wind,  father  of 
Pakkanen,  the  Frost,  is  sometimes  personified  as  a 
gigantic  eagle. 

These  facts  and  considerations  prepare  the  way  for 
legends  that  began  to  be  told  in  the  very  beginning  of 
things,  because  then,  and  until  yesterday,  all  ordinary 
folks  thought  them  true  as  well  as  interesting;  and 
they  are  repeated  even  now  as  curiosities  of  primitive 
faith — stories  of  birds  and  plants  called  "openers." 

The  oldest,  perhaps,  is  the  Rabbinical  legend  of  Solo- 
mon, who  desired  to  obtain  a  stone-breaking  "worm" 
(so  the  idea  was  even  then  ancient!)  in  possession  of 
Asmodeus,  the  Demon  of  Destruction.  Asmodeus  re- 
fused to  fetch  it,  and  told  Solomon  that  if  he  wanted 
this  magic  creature  (whose  name  was  schamir)  he  must 
find  the  nest  of  "the,"  not  "a,"  moorhen  and  cover  it 
with  a  plate  of  glass  so  that  the  motherbird  could  not 
get  access  to  her  young.  This  was  done.  When  the 
moorhen  returned  and  saw  the  situation  she  flew  away, 


brought  the  schamir  from  its  hiding-place,  and  was 
about  to  lay  it  on  the  glass,  which  it  would  break;  but 
Benaiah,  Solomon's  agent,  who  lay  in  wait,  shouted, 
and  so  frightened  the  bird  that  she  dropped  the  schamir, 
whereupon  Benaiah  picked  it  up,  as  he  had  planned  to 
do.  It  was  by  aid  of  this  "worm,"  which  shaped  the 
stone-work  for  him,  that  Solomon  was  able  to  build 
his  Temple  without  sound  of  hammer  or  saw.  Other 
versions  assert  that  a  raven  or  an  eagle  was  the  bird, 
and  that  the  magic  glass-breaker  was  a  stone  brought 
from  the  uttermost  East. 

The  story  travelled  to  Greece,  and  there  became  at- 
tached to  the  hoopoe,  a  small  crested  bird  that  figures 
largely  in  south-European  and  African  wonder-tales. 
A  hoopoe,  runs  the  Greek  story,  had  a  nest  in  an  old 
wall  in  which  was  a  crevice.  The  proprietor,  noticing 
the  rent  in  his  wall,  plastered  it  over;  thus  when  the 
hoopoe  returned  to  feed  her  young  she  found  that  the 
nest  had  been  covered  so  that  she  was  unable  to  enter  it. 

Forthwith  she  flew  away  in  quest  of  a  plant  called  poa 
(the  springwort?),  and  having  found  a  spray  returned  and 
applied  it  to  the  plaster,  which  at  once  fell  off  from  the  crack 
and  gave  her  free  access  to  her  nest.  Then  she  went  forth 
to  seek  food,  but  during  her  absence  the  master  again  plas- 
tered up  the  hole.  The  object  was  again  removed  by  means 
of  the  magic  poa,  and  a  third  time  the  hole  was  stopped  and 
opened  in  the  same  way. 

The  springwort  and  several  other  flowering  plants  were 
credited  in  old  times  with  a  magical  property  in  opening  locks. 
"Pliny  records  the  superstition  concerning  it  almost  in  the 
same  form  in  which  it  is  now  found  in  Germany.  If  any- 
one touches  a  lock  with  it  the  lock,  however  strong,  must 
yield.  .  .  .  One  cannot  easily  find  it  oneself,  but  generally  the 
woodpecker  [according  to  Pliny,  also  the  raven;  in  Switzer- 
land and  Swabia  the  hoopoe;  in  the  Tyrol  the  swallow]  will 
bring  it  under  the   following  circumstances:    When  the  bird 



visits  its  nest  the  nest  must  be  stopped  up  with  wood.  The 
bird  will  open  it  by  touching  it  with  a  spring-wurzel.  Mean- 
time a  fire  or  a  red  cloth  must  be  placed  near  by,  which  will 
so  frighten  the  bird  that  it  will  let  the  magic  root  fall." 

The  English  antiquary  Aubrey  (1626-97)  records  an 
anecdote  of  a  keeper  of  a  baronial  park  in  Hereford- 
shire who  "did  for  exponent's  sake  drive  an  iron  naile 
thwert  the  hole  of  the  woodpecker's  nest,  there  being 
a  tradition  that  the  damme  will  bring  some  leafe  to 
open  it.  He  layed  at  the  bottom  of  the  tree  a  cleane 
sheet,  and  before  many  houres  passed  the  naile  came 
out,  and  he  found  a  leafe  lying  by  it  on  the  sheet.  They 
say  the  moonwort  will  do  such  things."  The  moonwort 
is  a  fern  which  was  formerly  reputed  to  have  power  to 
draw  nails  out  of  horseshoes. 

From  such  roots  as  these  grew  the  superstitions  and 
legends  innumerable  of  plants  that  would  cure  a  snake 
(another  lightning-symbol)  or  other  animal  of  wounds, 
or  even  restore  the  dead.  A  tradition  of  the  Middle 
Ages  is  that  two  little  birds  were  seen  fighting  till  one 
was  exhausted.  "It  went  away  and  ate  of  a  certain 
herb  and  then  returned  to  renew  the  battle.  When  the 
old  man  who  witnessed  the  encounter  had  seen  this  done 
several  times  he  took  away  the  herb  on  which  the  bird 
was  wont  to  feed,  whereupon  the  little  bird,  unable  to 
find  its  plant,  set  up  a  great  cry  and  died."  It  is  a 
foolish  little  story,  but  illustrative. 

One  reads  of  magic  crystals,  and  of  gems  with  mar- 
vellous properties  that  would  open  mountains  in  which 
princes  or  glittering  treasures  were  hidden.  A  curious 
example  of  this  is  related  by  Leland 97  anent  the  con- 
stant and  ordinarily  fruitless  hunt  for  treasure  in  ancient 
Etruscan  tombs,  which  went  on  in  Italy  for  centuries. 


"When  one  would  find  a  treasure,"  the  peasants  told  Le- 
land,  "he  must  take  the  door  of  the  house  in  which  he 
dwells  and  carry  it  forth  into  the  fields  at  night  until 
he  comes  to  a  tree.  Then  he  must  wait  till  many  birds 
fly  over  him,  and  when  they  come  he  must  throw  down 
the  door,  making  a  great  noise.  Then  the  birds  in  fear 
will  speak  with  a  human  voice,  and  tell  where  the  treas- 
ure is  buried." 

Much  of  this  tinctures  the  mental  life  of  many  un- 
educated persons  to  this  day.  They  will  tell  you  now 
at  Rauen,  in  Germany,  that  a  princess  is  entombed  alive 
in  the  Markgrafenstein,  and  that  she  and  her  wealth 
can  be  released  only  by  one  who  will  go  there  on  a 
Friday  at  midnight  carrying  a  white  woodpecker — 
which  would  seem  to  make  an  albino  of  that  species 
well  worth  searching  for!  The  woodpecker  of  old  was 
a  "lightning-bird"  because,  among  other  reasons,  it  was 
supposed  to  get  fire  by  boring  into  wood,  as  did  primi- 
tive savages  by  means  of  the  fire-drill;  and  its  red  cap 
was  not  only  a  badge  of  its  office,  but  a  lightning-symbol 
in  general. 

Let  me  illuminate  this  matter  still  more  by  quoting 
the  comments  of  John  Fiske  98  on  the  mythical  concep- 
tions of  this  character  that  are  so  old,  and  so  cherished 
among  the  unlearned: 

Among  the  birds  enumerated  by  Kuhn  [author  of  The 
Descent  of  Fire]  and  others  as  representing  the  storm-cloud, 
are  likewise  the  wren  or  kinglet  (French  roitelet)  ;  the  owl, 
sacred  to  Athenae;  the  cuckoo,  stork  and  sparrow;  and  the 
red-breasted  robin,  whose  name  Robert  was  originally  an 
epithet  of  the  lightning-god  Thor.  In  certain  parts  of  France 
it  is  still  believed  that  the  robbing  of  a  wren's  nest  will  render 
the  culprit  liable  to  be  struck  by  lightning.  The  same  belief 
was  formerly  entertained  in  Teutonic  countries  with  respect 
to  the  robin.  .  .  . 


Now,  as  the  raven  or  woodpecker,  in  the  various  myths  of 
schamir,  is  the  dark  storm-cloud,  so  the  rock-splitting  worm, 
or  plant  or  pebble  is  nothing  more  or  less  than  the  flash  of 
lightning  carried  and  dropped  by  the  cloud  .  .  . 

The  persons  who  told  these  stories  were  not  weaving  in- 
genious allegories  about  thunder-storms,  or  giving  utterance 
to  superstitions  of  which  the  original  meaning  was  forgotten. 
The  old  grannies  who,  along  with  a  stoical  indifference  to  the 
fate  of  quails  and  partridges,  used  to  impress  upon  me  the 
wickedness  of  killing  robins,  did  not  add  that  I  should  be 
struck  by  lightning  if  I  failed  to  heed  their  admonitions. 
They  had  never  heard  that  the  robin  was  the  bird  of  Thor: 
they  merely  rehearsed  the  remnant  of  the  superstition  which 
had  survived  to  their  own  times,  while  the  essential  part  of 
it  had  long  since  faded  from  recollection.  The  reason  for 
regarding  a  robin's  life  as  more  sacred  than  a  partridge's  had 
been  forgotten;  but  it  left  behind,  as  was  natural,  a  vague 
recognition  of  that  mythical  sanctity.  The  primitive  meaning 
of  a  myth  fades  away  as  inevitably  as  the  primitive  meaning 
of  a  word  or  phrase;  and  the  rabbins  which  told  of  a  worm 
which  shattered  rocks  no  more  thought  of  the  writhing  thun- 
derbolts than  the  modern  reader  thinks  of  oyster-shells  when 
he  sees  the  word  ostracism,  or  consciously  breathes  a  prayer 
when  he  writes  the  phrase  Good-bye. 


IT  is  not  easy  in  preparing  a  book  devoted  mainly  to 
fable  and  folklore  to  sort  out  material  for  a  separate 
chapter  on  "legends/ '  A  legend  may  be  defined 
as  a  narrative  of  something  thought  of  as  having 
actually  happened  in  connection  with  some  real  purpose 
or  place,  but  which  is  unsupported  by  historical  evi- 
dence. In  many  cases  such  narratives  are  quite  in- 
credible, but  even  so  they  may  have  a  historically  illus- 
trative, a  literary,  or  at  least  an  amusing  interest. 
Stories  of  a  considerable  number  of  well-known  kinds 
of  birds  are  in  this  way  connected  with  actual  persons, 
or  with  verifiable  incidents  of  the  past,  and  hence  may 
be  said  to  be  "legends  in  an  historical  setting."  A  fair 
example  of  them  is  the  incident  of  the  Capitoline  geese. 
Early  in  the  third  century  before  the  Christian  era 
a  horde  of  Gaulish  invaders  under  Brennus  over-ran 
central  Italy,  and  in  388  B.  C.  captured  all  of  Rome  it- 
self except  the  lofty  citadel  called  the  Capitol,  where  a 
Roman  general  officer,  Marcus  Manlius,  held  out  with 
a  small  garrison  on  the  point  of  starvation.  One  night 
the  besieging  Gauls,  having  discovered  an  unguarded 
by-path,  crept  up  the  rocky  steep,  intending  the  surprise 
and  capture  of  the  almost  worn-out  defenders.  "But," 
says  Plutarch,94  in  Dryden's  translation,  "there  were 
sacred  Geese  kept  near  the  Temple  of  Juno,  which  at 
other  times  were  plentifully  fed,  but  at  this  time,  by 



reason  of  the  Corn  and  all  other  Provisions  were  grown 
strait,  their  allowance  was  shorten'd  and  they  themselves 
in  a  poor  and  lean  condition.  This  Creature  is  by  nature 
of  quick  sense,  and  apprehensive  of  the  least  noise;  so 
that  besides  watchful  through  hunger,  and  restless,  they 
immediately  discovered  the  coming  of  the  Gauls;  so  that 
running  up  and  down,  with  their  noise  and  cackling  they 
raised  the  whole  camp." 

Manlius  sprang  from  sleep,  aroused  a  body  of  soldiers 
and  repelled  the  attack.  It  was  the  beginning  of  an 
ultimate  victory  over  the  enemy.  Rome  was  saved, 
and  in  recognition  of  it  Manilus  was  given  the  honorary 
title  Capitolinus,  and  for  a  long  time  afterward  the 
incident  was  celebrated  annually  by  a  procession  to  the 
Capitol  in  which  a  golden  goose  was  carried.  Livy  also 
tells  us  in  his  history  that  the  prototype  of  this  golden 
symbol  was  a  single  sentinel  goose  never  seen  before, 
hence  a  divine  aid  sent  to  Rome  for  the  purpose  by  the 
gods.    It  is  interesting  to  note  that 

These  consecrated  geese  in  orders 
That  to  the  capitol  were  warders 
And  being  then  upon  patrol 
With  noise  alone  beat  off  the  Gaul, 

as  Hudibras  has  it,  were  "sacred"  to  Juno,  for  this  was 
before  the  time  when  she,  having  changed  from  the 
status  of  simple  wife  to  Jupiter  (and  a  model  to  human 
wives),  had  become  the  imperious  and  trouble-making 
empress  of  later  days,  and  had  discarded  the  motherly 
goose  for  the  exotic,  proud,  and  royally  splendid  pea- 
cock. This  is  a  capital  example  of  the  adaptive  char- 
acter of  the  assignment  of  birds  to  the  various  demigods 
of   the   Roman   pantheon;   and   it   suggests   the   query 


whether  in  some  principal  cases  reverence  for  the  bird 
itself  did  not  precede  the  conception  of  the  divinity  it 
afterward  typified. 

Another  tale  of  birds  acting  as  sentinels  explains  how 
the  wren  came  to  be  so  mortally  hated  by  the  Irish,  whose 
cruel  "hunting  of  the  wren"  is  described  in  another 
chapter.  According  to  Lady  Wilde,00  a  student  of  Irish 
folklore,  this  hatred  is  owing  to  the  fact  that  once  when 
Irish  troops  were  approaching  to  attack  a  part  of 
Thomas  Cromwell's  army  (about  1650)  "wrens  came 
and  perched  on  the  Irish  drums,  and  by  their  tapping 
and  noise  aroused  the  English  soldiers,  who  fell  on  the 
Irish  troops  and  killed  all  of  them."  This  is  a  variant 
of  a  legend  far  older  than  Cromwell's  campaigning; 
and  it  is  not  the  true  explanation  of  the  antipathy  the 
cruder  Irish  and  Manxmen  still  feel  toward  this  innocent 
little  songster,  while  at  the  same  time  they  have  a  pecu- 
liar tenderness  for  the  robin. 

A  third  parallel  is  found  in  the  annoyance  caused 
the  Scottish  Covenanters.  Many  a  meeting  of  pious 
Presbyterians  in  some  hidden,  heathery  glen  of  the  misty 
hills  was  discovered  and  roughly  dispersed  "because  of 
the  hovering,  bewailing  plovers,  fearful  for  their  young, 
clamoring  overhead."  The  poet  Leyden  alludes  to  the 
long-remembered  grudge  against  this  suspicious  bird 
when,  speaking  of  the  religious  refugees  on  the  moors, 
he  writes: 

The  lapwing's  clamorous  whoop  attends  their  flight, 
Pursues  their  steps  where'er  the  wanderers  go, 
Till  the  shrill  scream  betrays  them  to  the  foe. 

Returning  to  ancient  history,  two  bird-stories  of 
Alexander  the  Great  are  delightful  as  illustrating  how 


an  independent  and  masterful  intellect,  even  in  that  early 
day  above  the  Pagan  superstitions  of  the  time,  might 
with  ingenuity  and  boldness  bend  the  sanctions  of 
religion  to  his  own  ends  without  destroying  them.  The 
first  one  is  an  incident  recorded  of  Alexander's  cam- 
paign in  Asia  Minor  in  334  B.  C.  His  fleet  was  an- 
chored in  the  harbor  of  Miletus,  and  opposite  it  lay  the 
fleet  of  the  Persians.  Alexander  had  no  desire  to  disturb 
this  situation,  for  he  meant  his  army,  not  the  navy, 
to  do  the  work  in  view.  One  day  an  eagle,  Jove's 
bird,  was  seen  sitting  on  the  shore  behind  the  Mace- 
donian ships,  and  Parmenion,  chief  of  staff,  found  in 
this  fact  convincing  indication  by  the  gods  that  victory 
was  with  the  ships.  Alexander  pointed  out  that  the 
eagle  had  perched  on  the  land,  not  on  the  ships,  giving 
thereby  the  evident  intimation  that  it  was  only  through 
the  victory  of  the  troops  on  land  that  the  fleet  could  have 
value.  As  Alexander  was  commander-in-chief,  this  was 
evidently  the  orthodox  interpretation. 

Two  years  later  Alexander  was  one  day  laying  out 
on  its  site  the  plan  of  his  foreordained  city  of  Alex- 
andria, in  Egypt,  and  was  marking  the  course  of  the 
proposed  streets  by  sprinkling  lines  of  flour  in  the  lack 
of  chalk-dust.  'While  the  king,"  says  Plutarch,  "was 
congratulating  himself  on  his  plan,  on  a  sudden  a  count- 
less number  of  birds  of  various  sorts  flew  over  from 
the  land  and  the  lake  in  clouds,  and  settling  on  the  spot 
in  clouds  devoured  in  a  short  time  all  the  flour,  so  that 
Alexander  was  much  disturbed  in  mind  at  the  omen 
involved,  till  the  augurs  restored  his  confidence,  telling 
him  the  city  .  .  .  was  destined  to  be  rich  in  its  resources, 
and  a  feeder  of  nations  of  men." 

The  straight  face  with  which  Plutarch  94  recites  these 


and  similar  stones  of  hocus-pocus  in  the  matter  of  in- 
convenient omens  is  delightful;  but  the  faith  of  the 
common  people  was  not  so  easily  shaken.  For  example : 
When  the  Sicilian-Greek  army  of  Agathocles,  Tyrant  of 
Syracuse  in  the  third  century,  B.  C,  was  facing  near 
Times  a  more  powerful  Carthaginian  force,  Agathocles 
let  loose  a  number  of  owls  among  his  men,  "who  sud- 
denly took  great  courage  as  the  birds  sacred  to  Pallas 
settled  blinking  upon  their  helmets  and  shields" — and 
they  routed  the  bigger  enemy.  That  was  true  religious 
inspiration — as  true  as  ever  blazed  in  the  heart  of 
Christian  crusader;  but  it  was  a  sacrilegous  trick  on 
the  part  of  Agathocles! 

Just  across  the  strait  from  Sicily,  at  Regium  (Reg- 
gio),  was  the  home  of  the  celebrated  cranes  of  Ibycus. 
Ibycus,  a  local  poet,  was  being  murdered  by  robbers 
when  he  called  on  the  cranes  fluttering  near  by  to  give 
witness  of  his  death.  Later,  the  murderers  were  one 
day  at  the  theatre,  when  they  saw  a  flock  of  cranes,  and 
in  fright  whispered  to  one  another:  "The  cranes  of 
Ibycus!"  They  were  overheard,  arrested  and  executed, 
whence  the  proverb  "the  cranes  of  Ibycus"  to  express 
crime  coming  unexpectedly  to  light. 

The  Wonderful  Magazine,  an  amazing  periodical 
issued  in  London  from  1793  to  1798,  contained  a  story 
that  in  1422  a  "Roman"  emperor  besieging  Zeta  took  all 
the  sparrows  his  men  could  catch,  and,  tying  lighted 
matches  to  their  feet,  let  them  go  toward  the  town. 
But  the  citizens  made  a  great  noise,  and  the  frightened 
sparrows  flying  back  set  the  Roman  camp  on  fire  and 
so  raised  the  siege.  The  reader  may  put  his  own  esti- 
mate on  this  bit  of  historical  lore;  and  may  discover, 
if  he  can,  where  and  what  was  Zeta. 


Arabs  in  Palestine  tell  how  a  bird  was  involved  in 
David's  sin  of  coveting  Uriah's  wife.  David,  they  say, 
had  shut  himself  up  in  a  tower  for  meditation,  when, 
happening  to  look  up,  he  saw  just  outside  the  window 
a  bird  of  amazing  beauty — a  pigeon  whose  plumage 
gleamed  like  gold  and  jewels.  David  threw  some 
crumbs  on  the  floor,  whereupon  the  pigeon  came  in  and 
picked  them  up,  but  eluded  David's  attempt  to  capture 
it.  At  last,  to  escape  his  efforts,  it  flew  to  the  window 
and  settled  on  one  of  the  bars.  He  pursued,  but  it 
departed.  It  was  then,  as  David  followed  the  bright 
creature  with  longing  eyes,  that  he  caught  sight  of 
Madame  Uriah  in  the  bath — and  was  done  for ! 

Among  other  excellent  things  in  Hanauer's  Tales 
from  Palestine  43  is  the  following  report  of  Solomon's 
contest  with  a  dove: 

"In  the  southern  wall  of  the  Kubbet  'es-Sakhra  [at 
Jerusalem],  the  mosque  that  now  stands  near  the  site 
of  the  ancient  Temple,  on  the  right  side  of  the  door  as 
one  enters  there  is  a  gray  slab  framed  in  marble  of  a 
dark  color.  It  contains  a  figure,  formed  by  natural 
veins  in  the  stone,  which  is  distinct  enough  to  be  taken 
for  a  picture  of  two  doves  perched  facing  each  other  on 
the  edge  of  a  vase.  With  this  picture  is  connected  a 
tale  .  .  . 

"The  great  king  Solomon  understood  the  language 
of  beasts,  birds  and  fishes,  and,  when  he  had  occasion 
to  do  so,  would  converse  with  all  of  them.  One  day, 
soon  after  he  had  completed  the  Temple,  as  he  was 
standing  at  a  window  of  the  royal  palace,  he  overheard 
a  conversation  between  a  pair  of  birds  that  were  sit- 
ting on  the  housetop.  Presently  the  male,  who  was 
evidently   trying   to   impress   the   female   with   his   im- 


portance,  exclaimed :  'Solomon  is  a  conceited  fool !  Why 
should  he  be  so  vain  of  this  pile  of  buildings  he  has 
raised?  I,  if  I  wished,  could  kick  them  all  over  in  a 
few  minutes/ 

"The  king,  greatly  enraged  by  this  pompous  speech, 
summoned  the  offender  into  his  presence  and  demanded 
what  he  meant  by  such  an  outrageous  boast.  'Your 
majesty,'  replied  the  bird,  'will,  I  am  sure,  forgive  my 
audacity,  when  I  explain  that  I  was  in  the  company 
of  a  female;  since  your  majesty  doubtless  knows  from 
experience  that  in  such  circumstances  the  temptation  to 
boast  is  almost  irresistible.'  The  monarch,  forgetting 
his  anger  in  his  amusement,  said  with  a  smile:  'Go  your 
way  this  time,  but  see  that  you  do  not  repeat  the  offence,' 
and  the  bird,  after  a  profound  obeisance,  flew  away  to 
rejoin  his  mate. 

"He  had  hardly  alighted  before  the  female,  unable  to 
repress  her  curiosity,  eagerly  inquired  why  he  had  been 
summoned  to  the  palace.  'Oh,'  said  the  impudent 
boaster,  'the  king  heard  me  tell  you  that  if  I  chose  I 
could  kick  down  all  his  buildings  in  no  time,  and  he 
sent  for  me  to  beg  me  not  to  do  it." 

"Solomon,  who,  of  course,  heard  this  remark  also,  was 
so  indignant  at  the  incorrigible  vanity  of  its  author  that 
he  at  once  turned  both  birds  into  stone.  They  remain 
to  this  day  as  a  reminder  of  the  saying:  'The  peace  of 
mankind  consists  in  guarding  the  tongue.' ' 

But  the  stories  of  Solomon  and  his  bird-friends  are 
many.  He  was  evidently  a  jolly  old  soul,  and  tradition 
says  that  when  he  travelled  across  the  desert  clouds  of 
birds  formed  a  canopy  to  protect  him  from  the  sun. 
The  hoopoe,  a  high-crested  bird  that  figures  largely  in 
other  fanciful  tales  of  the  East,  tells  wise  Solomonic 


stories,  and  is  still  regarded  by  Saharan  nomads  as  pos- 
sessed of  peculiar  virtues.  The  great  Jewish  king,  whose 
reality  is  almost  hidden  under  the  legendary  mantle,  is 
said  to  have  chosen  the  hoopoe,  the  cock  and  the  pewit: 
the  first  because  of  its  wit,  the  second  in  admiration  of 
its  cry,  and  the  third  because,  says  Hanauer,  it  can 
see  through  the  earth,  and  could  tell  him  where  foun- 
tains of  water  could  be  found.  The  last  preference  is 
natural  in  an  arid  region,  the  pewit  being  a  water-bird, 
the  familiar  lapwing-plover;  and  as  it  annually  migrates 
through  Palestine  into  Ethiopia  it  is  reasonable  that  it 
should  be  fabled  to  be  the  means  of  bringing  Solomon 
and  the  Queen  of  Sheba  together,  as  is  described  in 
Chapter  XXVII  of  the  Koran.  It  should  be  noted  that 
all  of  these  birds  are  crested. 

The  veneration  given  to  doves  by  the  Mohammedans 
at  Mecca  is  accounted  for  elsewhere;  but  swallows  are 
held  in  almost  equal  reverence  by  both  officials  and  pil- 
grims at  that  great  shrine  of  Islam,  and  build  their 
nests  in  the  harain.  This  respect  is  explained  by 
Keane14  as  the  result  of  a  belief  that  they  were  the 
instruments  by  which  Mecca  was  saved  from  the  Abys- 
sinian (Christian)  army  that  is  known  to  have  invaded 
Arabia  in  the  year  of  Mohammed's  birth,  and  to  have 
been  disastrously  expelled.  The  tradition  is  that  God 
sent  flocks  of  swallows,  every  bird  carrying  three  small 
stones  in  its  beak  and  two  in  its  claws,  which  were 
dropped  on  the  heads  of  the  Abyssinians,  and  mirac- 
ulously penetrated  the  bodies  of  men  and  elephants 
until  only  one  of  the  invaders  was  left  alive.  He  fled  back 
to  his  country,  and  had  just  finished  telling  of  the  dis- 
aster to  the  king  when  one  of  the  swallows,  which  had 
followed  him  from  Mecca,  dropped  its  pebble  and  killed 


him  too.  The  kernel  of  this  dramatic  story  is  in  the 
nineteenth  section  of  the  Koran:  50  "And  he  sent  against 
them  birds  in  flocks  (ababils),  claystones  did  he  hurl 
down  at  them."  The  historical  explanation  is  that  the 
Abyssinian  invaders  were  destroyed  by  small-pox,  the 
pustules  of  which  are  called  in  Arabic  by  a  word  mean- 
ing "small  stones." 

Of  a  piece  with  these  traditions  and  the  Rabbinical 
tales  of  the  Jews  are  the  monkish  legends  preserved  in 
early  British  chronicles,  such  as  that  by  the  Venerable 
Bede  or  by  William  of  Malmesbury.  The  orthodox  as 
well  as  dissenters  had  trouble  with  birds.  Among  the 
traditions  of  the  celebrated  Scotch-Irish  missionary 
Columba  (Latinized  from  his  baptismal  name  Colum, 
"dove")  is  one  that  once  in  his  ardent  youth  Colum  was 
trying  to  make  by  stealth  in  a  church  a  copy  of  the 
psalter  in  possession  of  the  selfish  king,  Finian  of  Done- 
gal, who  had  refused  the  young  enthusiast  that  privilege. 
A  meddlesome  stork,  confined  within  the  church,  in- 
formed the  sacristan,  and  Colum  was  arrested.  Never- 
theless by  divine  aid  he  got  his  copy,  helpful  to  him 
afterward  in  his  beneficent  work  in  the  Scottish  high- 

One  of  the  prettiest  of  these  old  stories  is  that  of 
St.  Kenneth  and  the  gulls.22  One  day  about  A.  D.  550 
the  blackheaded  gulls,  flying  as  usual  along  the  coast  of 
Wales,  and  scanning  the  sea  sharply  for  food  or  any- 
thing else  interesting  to  a  gull,  found  floating  in  a 
coracle — a  round,  wicker  work  canoe — a  human  baby  a 
day  or  two  old,  contentedly  asleep  on  a  pallet  made  of 
a  folded  purple  cloth.  Several  gulls  seized  the  corners 
of  this  cloth  and  so  carried  the  child  to  the  ledge  of 
the  Welsh  cliff  where  they  nested,  plucked  feathers  from 


their  breasts  to  make  a  soft  bed,  laid  the  baby  on  it, 
then  hastened  to  fly  inland  and  bring  a  doe  to  provide 
it  with  milk,  for  which  an  angel  offered  a  brazen  bell 
as  a  cup.  There  the  blessed  waif  lived  for  several 
months;  but  one  day,  in  the  absence  of  all  the  gulls, 
a  shepherd  discovered  the  infant  and  took  him  down 
to  his  hut  and  his  kind  wife.  The  gulls,  returning  from 
the  sea,  heard  of  this  act  from  the  doe.  They  at  once 
rushed  to  the  shepherd's  cottage,  again  lifted  the  babe 
by  the  corners  of  its  purple  blanket,  and  bore  him  back 
to  the  ledge  of  their  sea-fronting  crag.  There  he  stayed 
until  he  had  grown  to  manhood — a  man  full  of  laughter 
and  singing  and  kind  words;  and  the  Welsh  peasants 
of  the  Gower  Peninsula  revered  him  and  called  him 
Saint  Kenneth. 

Somewhat  similar  is  the  legendary  history  of  Coe- 
magen,  or  Saint  Kelvin,  an  Irish  monk  of  the  eighth 
century,  into  whose  charge  was  committed  the  infant 
son  of  Colman,  a  Leinster  noble.  "Coemagen  fed  the 
child  on  the  milk  of  a  doe  which  came  from  the  forest 
to  the  door  of  his  cell.  A  raven  was  wont,  after  the 
doe  had  been  milked,  to  perch  on  the  bowl,  and  some- 
times would  upset  it.  'Bad  luck  to  thee !'  exclaimed  the 
saint.  When  I  am  dead  there  will  be  a  famous  wake, 
but  no  scraps  for  thee  and  thy  clan!'  When  very  old 
St.  Kelvin  moved  into  a  forest  hermitage,  where  the 
birds  came  to  him  as  companions.  Once,  while  pray- 
ing, his  supplicating  palms  outstretched,  a  blackbird 
(thrush)  dropped  her  eggs  into  the  hollow  of  his  hands, 
and  he  held  his  arms  rigid  until  the  chicks  hatched. " 

A  curious  parallel  to  the  last  incident  is  quoted  by  the 
Baroness  Martinengo-Caesaresco  20  "from  an  industrious 
translator"  of  the  book  Tatchi-Lou-Lun,  describing  how 


when  a  bird  laid  her  eggs  on  the  head  of  the  first 
Buddha,  which  she  mistook  for  the  branch  of  a  tree, 
he  plunged  himself  into  a  trance  so  as  not  to  move 
until  the  eggs  had  hatched  and  the  young  were  flown. 
St.  Bede  the  younger,  a  contemporary  of  Coemagen, 
had  a  dove  that  used  to  come  at  his  call;  and  an  Irish 
monk,  Comgall,  would  bid  the  swans  near  his  residence 
come  and  cluster  devotionally  around  his  feet.  Many 
saints,  the  legends  declare,  had  authority  over  birds, 
and  one,  St.  Millburg,  abbess  of  Wenlock,  in  Shrop- 
shire, kept  them  out  of  the  farmers'  crops  by  telling 
them  it  was  naughty  to  despoil  the  grain.  Of  old,  ac- 
cording to  Canon  Kingsley,  St.  Guthlac  in  Crowland 
said,  as  the  swallows  sat  upon  his  knee,  "He  who  leads 
his  life  according  to  the  will  of  God,  to  him  will  the 
wild  deer  and  the  wild  birds  draw  more  near." 

The  religious  "hermits,"  so  prevalent  at  that  period, 
were  men  who  chose  a  more  or  less  solitary  life,  quite 
as  much,  I  suspect,  on  account  of  their  love  of  nature 
as  from  purely  devotional  motives,  and  this  was  par- 
ticularly true  of  those  in  Great  Britain,  exhibiting  the 
characteristic  British  fondness  for  animal  life.  There 
was  an  early  St.  Bartholomew,  for  example,  who  in  the 
sixth  century  or  thereabout  dwelt  in  seclusion  on  one 
of  the  Fame  Islands  off  the  northeastern  coast  of  Eng- 
land, and  made  friends  of  the  gulls  and  cormorants  of 
the  place.  One  of  these  he  had  tamed  to  eat  out  of  his 
hand,  and  once,  when  Bartholomew  was  away  fishing, 
a  hawk  pursued  this  poor  bird  into  the  chapel  and  killed 
it.  Brother  Bartholomew  came  in  and  found  the  hawk 
there  with  bloody  talons  and  a  shame-faced  appearance. 
He  caught  it,  kept  it  two  days  without  food  to  punish 
it,  then  let  it  go.     At  another  time,  as  he  sat  by  the 


shore,  a  cormorant  approached  and  pulled  at  his  skirt, 
then  led  him  to  where  one  of  its  young  had  fallen  into 
a  crevice  of  the  rocks  whence  the  good  man  rescued  it. 

One  of  these  rocky  islets  in  the  North  Sea  became 
so  famous  during  the  next  century  that  it  has  been 
known  ever  since  as  Holy  Isle,  and  the  ruins  of  its 
monastery  and  cathedral  still  remain  and  may  be  seen 
from  the  railway  train  as  it  passes  along  the  brink  of 
the  lofty  coast  a  little  south  of  Berwick-on-Tweed.  This 
was  the  seat  of  the  renowned  Bishop  Cuthbert  of  whom 
many  quaint  stories  are  told,  apart  from  the  record  of 
his  religious  work.  They  attribute  to  his  influence  the 
extraordinary  gentleness  and  familiarity  characteristic 
of  the  eider  duck,  which  is  known  to  this  day  in  North- 
umbria  as  Cuthbert's  bird.  It  was  he,  according  to  a 
narrative  of  a  monk  of  the  13th  century,  who  inspired 
these  ducks  with  a  hereditary  trust  in  mankind  by  tak- 
ing them  as  companions  of  his  solitude  when  for  several 
years  he  resided  alone  on  Lindisfarne.  There  is  good 
reason  to  accept  this  and  similar  traditions  as  largely 
true,  for  a  like  ability  in  "gentling"  birds  and  other 
wild  animals  is  manifested  today  by  some  persons  of  a 
calm  and  kindly  sort. 

Early  in  the  eighth  century  a  monk  of  intensely 
ascetic  disposition,  named  Guthlac,  retired  to  a  solitary 
hermitage  on  an  island  in  the  dismal  morasses  of  Lin- 
colnshire, which  afterward,  if  not  then,  was  called  Croy- 
land  or  Crowland.  He  was  sorely  tempted  by  the  Devil 
we  are  informed,  and  had  many  battles  with  "demons" 
— native  British  refugees  hiding  in  the  fens;  but  in  the 
intervals  of  his  fasting  and  fighting  he  got  acquainted 
with  the  wild  creatures  about  him.  "The  ravens,  the 
beasts  and  the  fishes,"  says  the  record,  "came  to  obey 


him.  Once  a  venerable  brother  named  Wilfred  visited 
him,  and  .  .  .  suddenly  two  swallows  came  flying  in  .  .  . 
and  often  they  sat  fearlessly  on  the  shoulders  of  the 
holy  man  Guthlac,  and  then  lifted  up  their  song,  and 
afterward  they  sat  on  his  bosom  and  on  his  arms  and 
his  knees.  .  .  .  When  Guthlac  died  angelic  songs  were 
heard  in  the  sky,  and  all  the  air  had  a  wondrous  odor 
of  exceeding  sweetness." 

St.  Kentigern,  when  a  schoolboy,  was  wrongly  ac- 
cused of  having  twisted  off  the  head  of  his  master's 
pet  robin.  He  proved  his  innocence  by  putting  the  head 
and  body  together,  whereupon  the  robin  came  to  life 
and  attended  Kentigern  until  he  became  a  great  and 
good  man.  His  master  was  St.  Servan,  and  the  robin 
was  one  that  used  to  eat  from  his  hand  and  perch  on 
his  shoulder,  where  it  would  twitter  whenever  Servan 
chanted  the  Psalms. 

Here  we  encounter  the  mystical  kind  of  story  with 
which  those  old  chroniclers  like  to  embellish  their  biog- 
raphies of  holy  men,  and  there  was  no  limit  to  their 
credulity.  Such  is  the  tale  of  Carilef,  a  French  would- 
be  hermit  of  Menat,  in  Auvergne,  who  thought  he  was 
guided  to  set  up  a  religious  station  because  a  wren  had 
laid  an  egg  in  a  hood  that  he  had  left  hanging  on  a 
bush — a  very  wrenlike  proceeding;  and  that  was  the 
foundation  of  the  monastery  about  which  the  city  of 
St.  Calais  grew  in  later  times.  Several  other  incidents 
of  this  kind  are  on  record,  showing  that  the  value  placed 
on  any  action  by  a  bird  that  could  be  construed  as  a 
divine  message.  It  is  written  that  Editha,  one  of  the 
early  queens  of  England,  persuaded  her  husband  to 
found  a  religious  house  near  Oxford  on  account  of  the 
omens  she  interpreted  from  the  voice  and  actions  of  a 


certain  magpie.  Similarly  the  site  for  the  abbey  of 
Thierry,  near  Rheims,  in  France,  was  indicated  to  St. 
Theodoric,  in  the  sixth  century,  by  a  white  eagle  cir- 
cling around  the  top  of  the  hill  on  which  it  subsequently 
was  erected;  and  this  miraculous  eagle  was  seen  year 
after  year  in  the  sky  above  it. 

About  that  time  Kenelm,  son  and  heir  of  Kenulph, 
king  of  Wessex,  was  seven  years  old.  His  sister,  who 
wanted  to  succeed  to  the  throne  in  his  place,  procured 
his  murder.  The  instant  this  was  accomplished  the  fact 
was  notified  to  the  Pope,  according  to  the  Chronicles 
of  Roger  de  Wendover,  by  a  white  dove  that  alighted 
on  the  altar  of  St.  Peter's,  bearing  in  its  beak  a  scroll 
on  which  was  written 

In  Clent  cow-pasture,  under  a  thorn, 
Of  head  bereft  lies  Kenelm,  king-born. 

The  Pope  sent  word  to  England,  the  body  was  found  in 
a  thicket  over  which  hung  a  pillar  of  supernal  light,  and 
was  taken  to  Winchelcumb,  in  Gloucestershire,  for 
burial;  and  at  the  spot  near  Halesowen,  in  Shropshire, 
where  he  was  killed,  Kenelm's  Chapel  was  erected. 

But  the  most  mystical  legend  in  which  birds  are  a 
part,  is  one  familiar  in  Brittany.  It  is  related  of  St. 
Leonore,  a  Welsh  missionary  who  went  to  Brittany  in 
the  sixth  century,  to  whom  many  fabulous  powers  and 
deeds  are  attributed,  the  most  comprehensible  of  which 
Baring-Gould  has  put  into  verse.  Leonore,  with  a  band 
of  followers,  had  decided  to  settle  in  Brittany  on  a 
desolate  moor;  but  they  had  forgotten  to  bring  any 
seed-wheat,  and  were  alarmed. 


Said  the  abbot,  "God  will  help  us 

In  this  hour  of  bitter  loss." 
Then  one  spied  a  little  redbreast 

Sitting  on  a  wayside  cross. 

Doubtless  came  the  bird  in  answer 

To  the  words  the  monk  did  speak, 
For  a  heavy  wheat-ear  dangled 

From  the  robin's  polished  beak. 

Then  the  brothers,  as  he  dropped  it 

Picked  it  up  and  careful  sowed; 
And  abundantly  in  autumn 

Reaped  the  harvest  where  they  strewed.21 

Greater  poets  than  Baring-Gould  or  even  Bishop 
Trench  have  found  literary  material  in  these  monastic 
tales.  Witness  Longfellow's  Golden  Legend,  where  he 
sings  of  good  St.  Felix,  the  Burgundian  missionary  who 
crossed  the  Channel,  and  in  A.  D.  604  converted  to 
Christianity  the  wild  king  of  the  East  Saxons;  and  who 
listened  to  the  singing  of  a  milk-white  bird  for  a  hun- 
dred years,  although  it  had  seemed  to  him  but  an  hour, 
so  enchanted  was  he  with  the  music.  No  doubt  myth- 
mongers  might  discourse  very  scientifically  on  this  and 
some  other  of  these  episodes  in  the  penumbra  of  his- 
tory, but  we  will  leave  the  pleasure  of  it  to  them. 

None  of  these  traditions  of  early  bird-lovers  and 
teachers  of  kindness  are  so  pleasant  as  are  those  inspired 
by  the  gracious  life  of  St.  Francis.22  A  familiar  classic 
is  his  sermon  to  the  birds  when 

Around  Assisi's  convent  gate 
The  birds,  God's  poor  who  cannot  wait, 
From  moor  and  mere  and  darksome  wood 
Came  flocking  for  their  dole  of  food. 


One  of  the  prettiest  Franciscan  stories  is  that  of  the 
saint  and  the  nightingale  as  presented  by  Mrs.  Jamie- 
son;105  and,  by  the  way,  antiphonal  singing  with  birds 
is  related  of  several  holy  men  and  women  of  old : 

As  he  was  sitting  with  his  disciple  Leo,  he  felt  himself 
penetrated  with  joy  and  consolation  by  the  song  of  the  night- 
ingale .  .  .  and  Francis  began  to  sing,  and  when  he  stopped  the 
nightingale  took  up  the  strain;  and  thus  they  sang  alternately 
until  the  night  was  far  advanced  and  Francis  was  obliged  to 
stop  for  his  voice  failed.  Then  he  confessed  that  the  little 
bird  had  vanquished  him.  He  called  it  to  him,  thanked  it  for 
its  song,  and  gave  it  the  remainder  of  his  bread;  and  having 
bestowed  his  blessing  upon  it  the  creature  flew  away. 

Longfellow  has  preserved  in  melodious  verse  that 
legend  of  the  Spanish  Charles  V  and  the  swallow  that 
chose  his  tent  as  a  site  for  its  nest  at  a  time  when  the 
emperor — 

I  forget  in  what  campaign, 
Long  besieged  in  mud  and  rain 
Some  old  frontier  town  of  Flanders. 

Yes,  it  was  a  swallow's  nest, 

Built  of  clay  and  hair  of  horse's 
Mane,  or  tail,  or  dragoon's  crest, 
Found  on  hedgerows  east  and  west 
After  skirmish  of  the  forces. 

The  headquarters  staff  were  scandalized  by  the  bird's 
impudence,  but  Charles  forbade  their  malice: 

"Let  no  hand  the  bird  molest," 

Said  he  solemnly,  "nor  hurt  her!" 
Adding  then,  by  way  of  jest, 
"Golondrina  is  my  guest, 

'Tis  the  wife,  of  some  deserter !" 


So  unharmed  and  unafraid 

Sat  the  swallow  still  and  brooded, 
Till  the  constant  cannonade 
Through  the  walls  a  breach  had  made, 

And  the  siege  was  thus  concluded. 

Then  the  army  elsewhere  bent 

Struck  the  tents  as  if  disbanding, 
Only  not  the  Emperor's  tent. 
For  he  ordered  as  he  went, 

Very  curtly,  "Leave  it  standing." 

So  it  stood  there  all  alone, 

Loosely  flapping,  torn  and  tattered, 
Till  the  brood  was  fledged  and  flown, 
Swinging  o'er  those  walks  of  stone 

Which  the  cannon-shot  had  shattered. 


NOT  many  of  the  stories  about  birds  now  or  for- 
merly current  among  the  American  aborigines 
are  of  a  pleasing  character.  They  are  fantastic 
myths  for  the  most  part,  as  appears  from  many  of  the 
incidents  given  elsewhere  in  this  book;  and  often  they 
are  so  wildly  improbable,  incoherent,  and  unbirdlike  as 
to  disgust  rather  than  interest  us.  That  is  partly  owing, 
no  doubt,  to  our  difficulty  in  taking  the  native  point  of 
view,  and  our  ignorance  of  the  significance  the  half- 
animal,  half-human  characters  in  the  tales  have  to  the 
redmen,  with  whom,  in  most  cases,  the  startling  narra- 
tives pass  for  veritable  tribal  history.  Their  stories  are 
as  foreign  to  our  minds  as  is  their  "tum-tum"  music 
to  our  ears.  Now  and  then,  however,  we  come  across 
an  understanding  and  pleasing  legend,  of  purely  native 
origin,  and  touched  with  poetic  feeling. 

A  favorite  story  among  the  central  Eskimos,  for  in- 
stance, is  that  of  their  race-mother  Sedna,  who  was  the 
daughter  of  a  chief,  and  was  wooed  by  a  fulmar  (a 
kind  of  northern  petrel)  who  promised  her,  if  she  would 
marry  him,  a  delightful  life  in  his  distant  home.  So 
she  went  away  with  him.  But  she  had  been  ruefully 
deceived,  and  was  cruelly  mistreated.  A  year  later  her 
father  went  to  pay  her  a  visit;  and  discovering  her 
misery  he  killed  her  husband  and  took  his  repentant 
daughter  home.     The  other  fulmars  in  the  village  fol- 



lowed  them,  mourning  and  crying  for  their  murdered 
fellow,  and  fulmars  continue  to  utter  doleful  cries  to 
this  day. 

Another  Eskimo  tale  relates  that  a  loon  told  a  poor 
blind  boy  that  he  could  cure  him  of  his  affliction.  So 
the  boy  crept  after  the  bird  to  a  lake,  where  the  loon 
took  him  and  dived  with  him  into  the  water.  Three 
times  they  repeated  their  submergence,  the  last  time 
staying  a  long  time  under  the  water,  but  when  the  boy 
came  to  the  surface  after  the  third  diving  he  had  good 
eyesight.  This  seems  one  of  the  rare  examples  of  a 
tale  told  simply  for  its  own  sake,  and  free  of  any  eso- 
teric significance. 

A  very  pretty  legend,  current  among  the  Eskimos  of 
western  Alaska,  has  been  preserved  for  us  by  Edward 
W.  Nelson,101  who  spent  several  years,  late  in  the 
19th  century,  in  studying  the  ornithology  and  eth- 
nology of  the  Bering  Sea  region.  It  relates  to  the  red- 
polls, the  most  abundant  and  entertaining  land-birds  of 
Alaska,  where  it  would  be  a  surprisingly  hard  heart  that 
was  not  touched  by  their  companionship  as  winter  closes 
down  on  a  dreary  landscape  of  snow-drifts.  Let  me 
quote  Mr.  Nelson's  words: 

At  this  season  the  stars  seem  each  to  hang  from  the  firma- 
ment by  an  invisible  cord,  and  twinkle  clear  and  bright  over- 
head. The  sharp,  querulous  yelp  of  the  white  fox  alone  breaks 
the  intense  stillness.  A  white,  frosty  fog  hangs  in  the  air — 
the  chilled  breath  of  nature — which  falls  silently  to  the  ground 
in  the  lovely  crystal  handiwork  of  northern  genii.  In  the 
north  a  pale  auroral  arch  moves  its  mysterious  banners,  and 
the  rounding  bosom  of  the  earth,  chill  under  its  white  mantle, 
looks  dreary  and  sad.  After  such  a  night  the  sun  seems  to 
creep  reluctantly  above  the  horizon,  as  though  loath  to  face 
the  bitter  cold.  The  smoke  rises  slowly  and  heavily  in  the 
fixed  atmosphere,  and  warm  rooms  are  doubly  appreciated. 


Soon  small  troops  of  these  little  redpolls  come  .  .  .  flitting 
about  the  houses  on  all  sides,  examining  the  bare  spots  on  the 
ground,  searching  the  old  weeds  and  fences,  clinging  to  the 
eaves,  and  even  coming  to  the  window-sills,  whence  they  peer 
saucily  in,  making  themselves  continually  at  home,  and  re- 
ceiving a  hearty  welcome  for  their  cheering  presence.  The 
breast  is  now  a  beautiful  peach-blossom  pink,  and  the  crown 
shining  scarlet.  How  this  bird  came  to  bear  these  beautiful 
colors  is  told  in  one  of  the  Indian  myths  .  .  .  which  begins 

Very  long  ago  the  whole  of  mankind  was  living  in  cheer- 
less obscurity.  Endless  night  hid  the  face  of  the  world,  and 
men  were  without  the  power  of  making  a  fire,  as  all  the  fire 
of  the  world  was  in  the  possession  of  a  ferocious  bear  living 
in  a  far-off  country  to  the  north.  The  bear  guarded  his  charge 
with  unceasing  vigilance,  and  so  frightful  was  his  appearance 
that  no  man  dared  attempt  to  obtain  any  of  the  precious  sub- 
stance. While  the  poor  Indians  were  sorrowing  over  their 
misfortunes  the  redpoll,  which  at  that  time  was  a  plain  little 
wood-sparrow,  dressed  in  ordinary  dull  brown,  heard  their 
plaint — for  in  those  days  men  and  beasts  understood  one 
another, — and  his  heart  was  touched.  He  prepared  himself 
for  a  long  journey  and  set  out  toward  the  lodge  of  the  cruel 
bear.  After  many  adventures  ...  he  reached  the  place,  and 
by  a  successful  ruse  stole  a  living  ember  from  the  perpetual 
fire  which  glowed  close  under  the  breast  of  the  savage  guar- 
dian, and  flew  away  back  with  it  in  his  beak.  The  glow  of 
the  coal  was  reflected  from  his  breast  and  crown,  while  his 
forehead  became  slightly  burned.  Far  away  he  flew,  and 
finally  arrived  safely  at  the  home  of  mankind,  and  was  re- 
ceived with  great  rejoicing. 

He  gave  the  fire  to  the  grateful  people  and  told  them  to 
guard  it  well ;  and  as  he  did  so  they  noticed  the  rich  glow  on 
his  breast  and  brow,  and  said:  "Kind  bird,  wear  forever  that 
beautiful  mark  as  a  memento  of  what  you  have  done  for  us;" 
and  to  this  day  the  redpoll  wears  this  badge  in  proof  of  the 
legend,  as  all  may  see,  and  mankind  has  ever  since  had  fire. 

One  might  gather  a  considerable  collection  of  his- 
torical anecdotes  relating  to  birds  that  in  one  way  or 
another  aided  the  Indians  of  old  to  obtain  or  to  preserve 
fire,  and  some  of  them  are  noted  incidentally  elsewhere 


in  this  volume;  but  few  are  as  poetic  and  entertaining 
as  Mr.  Nelson's  contribution. 

The  late  Charles  G.  Leland  found  among  the  Algon- 
kins  of  Maine  and  eastward  a  great  number  of  tales 
that  he  put  into  his  books.  One  or  two  of  them  are 
about  birds,  and  these  he  threw  into  verse  and  pub- 
lished them  in  a  volume  entitled  Kuloskap  the  Master.^ 
The  longest  and  most  romantic  of  these  is  the  love- 
story  of  the  Leaf  for  the  Red  Bird  (scarlet  tanager), 
quoted  in  part  below: 

In  the  earliest  time  on  the  greatest  mountain 
Lived  merry  Mipis,  the  little  leaf  .  .  . 
Listens  all  day  to  the  birds  and  the  breezes, 
And  goes  to  sleep  to  the  song  of  the  owl. 

Merry  Mipis  on  a  bright  May  morning 

Was  stretching  himself  in  the  warm  sunshine 

When  he  heard  afar  a  wonderful  music, 

A  sound  like  a  flute  and  the  voice  of  a  maiden, 

Rippling  melodies  melting  in  one. 

Never  before  had  he  heard  such  singing. 

Then  looking  up  he  beheld  before  him 

A  beautiful  merry  little  bird-girl, 

Dressed  in  garments  of  brilliant  scarlet, 

Just  like  his  own  in  the  Indian  summer. 

"O  fairest  of  small  birds,"  said  merry  Mipis, 

"Who  are  you,  and  what  is  your  name?" 

Thus  she  answered:    "I  am  Squ'tes, 

The  Little  Fire.  .  .  . 

I  have  lived  in  the  deep  green  forest, 

Even  as  you  have  for  many  ages, 

Singing  my  songs  to  K'musom'n, 

Unto  our  Father  the  mighty  mountain; 

And,  because  he  well  loved  my  music, 

For  a  reward  he  sent  me  hither 

To  seek  a  youth  whose  name  is  Mipis, 

Whom  he  wills  that  I  should  wed." 

This  unexpected  and  rather  unmaidenly  avowal  rather 


startled  Mipis,  and  made  him  suspicious  of  some  trick- 
ery, despite  the  attraction  of  her  charm;  but  Squ'tes, 
"never  heeding  what  the  leaf  thought,"  began  again — 

Pouring  out  in  the  pleasant  sunshine 
Her  morning  song.    As  Mipis  listened 
To  the  melodious  trill  he  melted; 
For  the  sweet  tune  filled  all  the  forest, 
Every  leaf  on  the  tree  was  listening.  .  .  . 
And  as  the  music  grew  tender  and  stronger, 
And  as  in  one  long  soft  note  it  ended, 
Little  Leaf  said  to  her:   "Be  my  own." 
So  in  the  greenwood  they  lived  together. 

One  day  both  go  to  the  Mountain  and  thank  him  for 
their  happiness ;  and  in  the  course  of  the  visit  the  grand- 
sire  warns  them  not  to  go  away  from  the  Mountain, 
for  dangers  fill  the  outside  world,  thus: 

The  little  Indian  boy  Monimquess, 

Who,  armed  with  a  terrible  bow  and  arrows, 

Shoots  all  of  the  little  birds  of  the  forest; 

and — 

Aplasemwesit,  the  Little  Whirlwind, 
Who  never  rests.     He  is  always  trying 
To  blow  the  leaves  away  from  the  branches. 

So  they  built  their  nest  on  the  great  tree  that  grew 
"in  the  safest  place  in  all  the  mountain,"  and  for  a  time 
continued  in  bliss ;  but  Mipis  could  see  from  their  lofty 
home  a  far,  beautiful  country,  and  wanted  to  visit  it. 
So  Red  Bird  took  the  discontented  Little  Leaf  in  her  bill 
and  bore  him  away  into  the  delightful  lowland,  where 
again  they  built  a  home ;  but  here  the  Indian  boy  heard 
the  wonderful  singing,  and  shot  the  singer,  and  Little 
Whirlwind  seized  Mipis  and  took  him  to  his  grandsire, 
the  Storm,  who  resolved  to  keep  Mipis  as  a  prisoner. 


That  night  the  Mountain  dreamed  of  this,  and  sent  his 
son  to  demand  Mipis,  and  the  Storm  gave  him  up,  so 
that  soon  Little  Leaf  was  back  on  his  safe  mountain- 
tree — but  he  lived  in  lonely  grief. 

His  life  was  gone  with  the  Little  Fire, 
And  the  fire  of  his  life  was  all  in  ashes. 

How  then  had  it  fared  with  the  lost  Red  Bird  ?  When 
she  fell  under  the  boy's  arrow  she  was  not  killed  but 
sorely  wounded ;  and  when  the  young  Indian  carried  her 
home,  very  proud  of  his  prize,  his  grandsire  said  truly 
that  the  bird  must  be  kept  captive.  Red  Bird  recovered 
rapidly,  and  one  morning  Monimquess  was  dismayed 
to  hear  her  singing  as  loudly  as  possible,  "like  a  brook 
to  sunshine,"  as  he  thought,  for  he  knew  she  was  trying 
to  make  herself  heard  by  the  Mountain,  and  that  if  she 
succeeded  destruction  would  be  hurled  upon  the  wig- 
wam.    At  last,  wearied  with  anxious  thinking — 

Down  by  the  fire  he  lay  on  a  bearskin 

Smoking  himself  into  silent  sleep. 

The  door  was  closed,  nor  was  there  a  crevice 

Through  which  the  Red  Bird  could  creep  to  freedom, 

When  all  at  once  she  thought  of  the  opening 

Through  which  the  smoke  from  the  fire  ascended, 

Ever  upward  so  densely  pouring 

Nobody  dreamed  she  would  dare  to  pass  it. 

As  the  head  of  Monimquess  drooped  on  his  shoulder.  .  .  . 

Softly  the  Red  Bird  rose,  and  taking 

A  birchen  bucket  filled  it  with  water. 

Dipping  her  wing  in  the  water  she  sprayed  it 

Little  by  little  upon  the  fire. 

Little  by  little  the  fire,  like  Monimquess, 

Sank  to  sleep,  and  the  bright  red  flame 

Lay  down  to  rest  in  the  dull  gray  ashes. 

Out  of  the  smoke-hole,  in  careful  silence, 

Flitted  Squ'tes.  .  .  . 


So  the  lovers  were  reunited.     Then 

.  .  .  Squ'tes  and  Mipis 

Lived  all  the  summer  upon  the  mountain, 

Sung  in  its  shadows  and  shone  in  the  sunshine. 

Still  as  of  yore  they  are  singing  and  shining; 

And  so  it  will  be  while  the  mountain  is  there. 

A  very  curious  feature  of  this  delicate  romance,  which 
reminds  one  of  the  love-story  of  the  Nightingale  and 
the  Rose,  is  the  transposition  of  sex.  To  our  minds 
it  would  seem  natural  that  the  bird,  as  the  most  active 
of  the  two  characters,  should  take  the  male  part  and 
the  leaf  the  other;  and  it  is  false  to  fact  that  Red  Bird, 
as  a  female,  should  sing.  The  Indians  must  have  known 
that  this  was  unnatural,  yet  their  poetic  sense  arranged 
it  otherwise,  just  as  the  poets  have  pictured  the  nightin- 
gale pressing  her  breast  against  a  thorn,  yet  singing, 
as  only  male  birds  do ! 

Elsewhere  I  have  shown  how  important  a  part  the 
loon  plays  in  the  mythology  and  fireside  tales  of  the 
redmen  of  the  Northeastern  region  of  our  country  and 
that  of  the  Great  Lakes.  To  the  Algonkins  of  Maine 
and  eastward  this  bird  was  the  messenger  of  their  great 
hero  Glooscap,  or  Kuloskap,  as  Leland  spells  it  with 
careful  accuracy  when  writing  in  the  language  of  the 
Pasamaquoddies ;  and  he  has  told  in  verse  the  story  of 
how  this  service  was  accepted  by  the  willing  bird.  One 
day  when  Kuloskap  was  pursuing  the  gigantic  magi- 
cian, Winpe,  his  enemy,  a  flock  of  loons  came  circling 
near  him,  and  to  his  question  to  their  leader:  "What  is 
thy  will,  O  Kwimu?"  the  loon  replied:  "I  fain  would  be 
thy  servant,  thy  servant  and  thy  friend."  Then  the 
Master  taught  the  loons  a  cry,  a  strange,  prolonged  cry, 
like  the  howl  of  a  dog  when  he  calls  to  the  moon,  or 


when,  far  away  in  the  forest,  he  seeks  to  find  his  master ; 
and  he  instructed  them  to  utter  this  weird  summons 
whenever  they  required  him. 

Now  it  came  to  pass  long  after,  the  Master  in  Uktakumkuk 
(The  which  is  Newfoundland)  came  to  an  Indian  village, 
And  all  who  dwelt  therein  were  Kwimuuk,  who  had  been 
Loons  in  the  time  before.     And  now  they  were  very  glad 
As  men  to  see  once  more  the  Master,  who  had  blessed  them 
When  they  were  only  birds.     Therefore   he  made   them   his 

Also  his  messengers.    Hence  comes  that  in  all  the  stories 
Which  are  told  of  the  mighty  Master  the  loons  are  ever  his 

friends ; 
And  the  Indians,  when  they  hear  the  cry  of  the  loons,  exclaim : 
"Kimu  elkomtuejul  Kuloskapul"— the  Loon  is  calling 
Kuloskap,  the  Master. 

Leith  Adams  103  says:  "Stories  are  told" — among  the 
Micmacs  in  New  Brunswick — "how  the  snowy  owl  still 
laments  the  Golden  Age  when  man  and  all  animals  lived 
in  perfect  amity  until  it  came  to  pass  that  they  began 
to  quarrel;  when  the  great  Glooscap,  or  Gotescarp,  got 
disgusted  and  sailed  across  the  seas  to  return  when 
they  made  up  their  differences.  So  every  night  the  owl 
repeats  to  this  day  his  Koo,  koo,  skoos.  'Oh,  I  am  sorry, 
Oh,  I  am  sorry.'  " 

A  quaint  little  legend  comes  from  the  Tillamooks, 
whose  home  was  formerly  on  the  Oregon  coast,  where 
the  tides  do  not  rise  very  much.  In  the  beginning  of 
the  world,  it  teaches,  the  crow  had  a  voice  like  that  of 
the  thunder-bird,  and  the  thunder-bird  the  voice  of  a 
crow.  The  latter  proposed  to  exchange  voices.  The 
crow  agreed  to  this,  but  demanded  that  in  return  the 
thunder-bird  give  her  low  water  along  the  seashore, 
so  that  she  might  more  easily  gather  the  clams  and  other 
mussels,  which  was  a  part  of  a  Tillamook  woman's  daily 


task.  The  thunder-bird  therefore  made  the  water  draw 
back  a  very  long  distance.  But  when  the  crow  went  out 
on  the  waste  of  sea-bottom  she  saw  so  many  marine 
monsters  that  she  was  frightened,  and  begged  the  thun- 
der-bird not  to  make  the  waters  recede  so  far;  and  that 
is  the  reason  that  now  but  little  ocean-bottom  is  ex- 
posed at  ebb  tide  on  the  Oregon  coast. 

The  Gualala  Indians  were  a  tribe  of  the  great  Porno 
family  that  half  a  century  ago  dwelt  happily  in  the 
northwestern  corner  of  Sonoma  County,  California,  and 
their  staple  food  was  the  flour  of  crushed  and  filtered 
acorns  of  several  kinds  of  oaks.  In  their  country,  as 
elsewhere  in  that  State,  the  California  woodpecker 
(Melanerpes)  is  a  very  common  bird,  which  has  the 
habit  of  drilling  numerous  small  holes  in  pines  and 
other  soft-wooded  trees,  and  fixing  in  each  an  acorn — 
a  method  of  storing  its  favorite  food  against  a  time  of 
famine.  The  Indians  understood  this  very  well,  and 
in  times  of  scarcity  of  food  in  camp  they  would  cut 
down  the  small  trees  and  climb  the  big  ones,  and  rob 
the  cupboards  of  the  far  more  provident  birds.  "And 
here,"  says  Powers,19  "I  will  make  mention  of  a  kind 
of  sylvan  barometer.  .  .  .  These  acorns  are  stored  away 
before  the  rainy  season  sets  in,  sometimes  to  the  amount 
of  a  half-bushel,  and  when  they  are  wetted  they  pres- 
ently swell  and  start  out  a  little.  So  always,  when  a 
rainstorm  is  brewing,  the  woodpeckers  fall  to  work 
with  great  industry  a  day  or  two  in  advance  and  ham- 
mer them  in  all  tight.  During  the  winter,  therefore, 
whenever  the  woods  are  heard  rattling  with  the  pecking 
of  these  busy  little  commissary-clerks  heading  up  their 
barrels  of  worms,  the  Indian  knows  a  rainstorm  is  cer- 
tain to  follow." 


The  Chippeway  Indians,  as  Schoolcraft  noted,  account 
for  the  friendly  spirit  of  the  robin  by  relating  that  he 
was  once  a  young  brave  whose  father  set  him  a  task 
too  cruel  for  his  strength,  and  made  him  starve  too  long 
when  he  had  reached  man's  estate  and  had  to  go  through 
the  customary  initiation-ceremonies.  He  turned  into  a 
robin,  and  said  to  his  father:  "I  shall  always  be  the 
friend  of  man  and  keep  near  their  dwellings.  I  could 
not  gratify  your  pride  as  a  warrior,  but  I  will  cheer 
you  by  songs." 

This  pretty  fiction  is  noteworthy,  when  one  recalls 
the  many  instances  in  Greek  and  European  myths  and 
poetry  of  men  and  women  transforming  themselves  into 

The  Cherokees  had  an  interesting  story  about  the 
wren,  always  a  busybody.  She  gets  up  early  in  the 
morning,  they  say,  pries  into  everything,  and  goes  around 
to  every  lodge  in  the  settlement  to  get  news  for  the 
birds'  council.  When  a  new  baby  is  born  she  finds  out 
whether  it  is  a  boy  or  a  girl,  and  reports  to  the  council. 
If  it  is  a  boy  the  birds  sing  in  mournful  chorus :  "Alas ! 
The  whistle  of  the  arrow!  My  shins  will  burn,"  for 
the  birds  know  that  when  the  boy  grows  older  he  will 
hunt  them  with  his  blowgun  and  arrows,  and  roast 
them  on  a  stick.  But  if  the  baby  is  a  girl  they  are 
glad,  and  sing:  "Thanks!  The  sound  of  the  pestle! 
At  her  home  I  shall  surely  be  able  to  scratch  where  she 
sweeps,"  because  they  know  that  after  a  while  they  will 
be  able  to  pick  up  stray  grains  where  she  beats  the  corn 
into  meal.104 

In  the  myths  or  folklore  of  the  Pawnees  a  character 
in  several  tales,  as  related  by  Grinnell,105  is  a  little  bird, 
smaller  than  a  pigeon.     "Its  back  is  blue,  but  its  breast 


white,  and  its  head  is  spotted.  It  flies  swiftly  over  the 
water,  and  when  it  sees  a  fish  it  dives  down  into  the 
water  to  catch  it.  This  bird  is  a  servant  or  a  messenger 
for  the  Nahurac."  The  Nahurac  are  an  assemblage  of 
imaginary  animals  by  whom  many  wonderful  things  are 
done ;  and  it  communicates  to  living  men  their  wishes  or 
orders,  and  acts  as  a  guide  when  men  are  summoned  to 
come  or  go  somewhere.  But  this  is  perilously  near  the 
purely  mythical,  and  it  is  mentioned  only  as  an  example 
of  the  widespread  conception  of  birds  as  messengers 
and  interpreters. 

I  hope  I  may  be  pardoned  if  I  add  to  this  group  of 
Indian  bird-stories  one  or  two  told  in  the  Negro  cabins 
of  North  Carolina,  and  probably  elsewhere,  and  written 
down  in  Volume  XI  of  the  American  Folk-Lore 
Journal-,  among  many  other  tales  of  the  out-door  crea- 
tures to  which  the  rural  darkies  like  to  attribute  human 
attributes,  and  to  use  as  puppets  in  their  little  comedies 
of  animal  life,  which  are  likely  to  be  keen  satires  on 
humanity.  The  one  to  be  quoted  is  a  parable  of  how 
Ann  Nancy  (a  spider)  got  caught  in  a  tight  place  by 
Mr.  Turkey  Buzzard,  and  how  she  escaped,  for  Mr. 
Buzzard  was  going  to  eat  her. 

"But,"  says  the  narrator,  "she  beg  so  hard,  and  com- 
pliment his  fine  presence,  and  compare  how  he  sail  in 
the  clouds  while  she  'bliged  to  crawl  in  the  dirt,  till  he 
that  proud ful  and  set  up  he  feel  mighty  pardonin'  spirit, 
and  he  let  her  go." 

Ann  Nancy,  however,  did  not  enjoy  the  incident,  and 
"jess  study  constant  how  she  gwine  get  the  best  of 
every  creeter,,,  and  particularly  of  the  tormenting  bird. 

"She  knew  Mr.  Buzzard's  weak  point  am  he  stomach, 
and  one  day  she  make  it  out  dat  she  make  a  dining, 


and  Vite  Mr.  Buzzard  an'  Miss  Buzzard  an'  de  chillens. 
Ann  Nancy  she  know  how  to  set  out  a  dinin'  fo'  sure, 
and  when  dey  all  got  sot  down  to  the  table,  an'  she 
mighty  busy  passin'  the  hot  coffee  to  Mr.  Buzzard  an' 
the  little  Buzzards,  she  have  a  powerful  big  pot  o' 
scalding  water  ready,  and  she  lip  it  all  over  poor  or 
Mr.  Buzzard's  haid,  and  the  po'  ol'  man  done  been 
baldhaided  from  that  day. 

"An'  he  don't  forget  on  Ann  Nancy,  'cause  you  'serve 
she  de  onliest  creeter  on  the  topside  the  earth  what  Mr. 
Buzzard  don't  eat." 


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51.  Cruden,   Alexander.     A   Complete   Concordance   to  the 

Holy  Scriptures. 

52.  Laufer,      Berthold.        Bird      Divination      among      the 

Thibetans.     (Leiden,  1914.) 

53.  Miller,  Leo.     In  the  Wilds  of  South  America.     (New 

York,  1918.) 

54.  Gubernatis,  Angelo  de.     Zoological  Mythology.     (New 

York,  1872.) 

55.  Newton,  Alfred.    Dictionary  of  Birds.     (London,  1896.) 

56.  Conway,  Moncure  D.    The  Wandering  Jew.    (New  York, 

1881.)     See   also   his    Solomonic   Literature    (Chicago, 

57.  Watters,  John  J.  The  Birds  of  Ireland.  (Dublin,  1853.) 

58.  Sykes,   Ella.     Through   Deserts   and   Oases   of   Central 

Asia.     (London,  1914.) 

59.  Sale,    George.     The    Koran    (Alcoran   of   Mohammed.) 

(London,  1825.) 

60.  Wilde,  Lady  Jane  F.     Ancient  Legends,  Mystic  Charms 

and  Superstitions  of  Ireland.     (London,  1902.) 

61.  Smith,  Horatio.    Festivals.     (New  York,  1836.) 

62.  Wentz,   W.   Y.     The    Fairy   Faith   in    Celtic    Countries. 

(London,  191 1.) 

63.  Jenner,  Mrs.   Henry.     Christian   Symbolism.     (London, 


64.  O'Connor,     Vincent     C.       Travels     in     the     Pyrenees. 

(London,  1913.) 

65.  Bassett,  Fletcher  S.     Legends  and  Superstitions  of  the 

Sea.     (Chicago,  1888.) 

66.  Elworthy,  F.  T.    The  Evil  Eye.    (London,  1895.) 

67.  Gostling,   Frances   M.   P.     Rambles   about  the   Riviera. 

(New  York,  1914.)    See  also  her  books  about  the  French 
chateaux,  and  the  Bretons. 

68.  Ball,    Mrs.     Katherine    M.       Decorative    Motives    in 

Oriental  Art.    In  Japan  (magazine),  New  York,  1922. 

69.  Dryden,  John.     Ovid's  Metamorphoses:  ''Transformation 

of  Syrinx."     (Boston,  1854.) 

70.  Bendire,    Major    Charles.      Life    Histories    of    North 


American  Birds,  Vol.  I.     (Washington,  Smithsonian  In- 
stitution, 1892.) 

71.  MacBain,  Alexander.     Celtic  Mythology  and   Religion. 

(Stirling,  1917.) 

72.  Frazer,  Sir  J.  G.     Golden  Bough  (series).     The  Scape- 

goat (1913). 

73.  Waterton,    Charles.      Essays     (London,    1870).      Also 

Wanderings  in  South  America.     (New  York,  1910.) 

74.  Squire.    Mythology  of  the  British  Isles.     (London,  1905.) 

75.  Lanciani,    Rodolph    A.      Pagan    and    Christian    Rome, 

(Boston,  1893.) 

76.  Williams,   Samuel  W.     The  Middle  Kingdom.     (New 

York,  1883.) 
yy.  Mooney,  James.    Report  U.  S.  Bureau  of  Ethnology,  Vol. 
XIV,  1892-3. 

78.  Broderip,  W.  J.    Zoological  Recreations.    (London,  1849.) 

79.  Nuttall^   Thomas.     Manual  of  the  Ornithology  of  the 

United  States  and  Canada.     (Cambridge,  1832.) 

80.  Heaton,  Mrs.  John  L.    By-Paths  in  Sicily.     (New  York, 


81.  Irby,    Col.    Howard    L.     Ornithology  of  the   Straits  of 

Gibraltar.     (London,  1875.) 

82.  Jones,  W.    Credulities  Past  and  Present.    (London,  1877.) 

83.  Swanton,  John  R.    Report  U.  S.  Bureau  Ethnology,  Vol. 

XXVI,  1904-5..  P-  454.  u  ^  ^  .  u        A 

84.  Hazlitt,  William   C.     Dictionary  of  Faiths  and  folk- 

lore.    (London,  1895.) 

85.  Stevenson,  Hamilton  S.   Animal  Life  in  Africa.  (London, 


86.  Manat,  James  I.    TEgean  Days.     (London,  1913.) 

87.  The  Arabian  Nights:    Payne's  edition  (London,  1901.) 

88  Costello,  Louis  S.    The  Rose  Garden  of  Persia.  (London, 

1899),  including  "Flowers  and  Birds"  by  Azz'  Eddin 
Elmocadessi,  "Jamshid's  Courtship"  by  Firdausi,  and 
prose  notes. 

89  Polo,  Marco.     Travels:    Yule's  edition.     (London,  1875.) 
00   Davis,  F.  H.    Myths  and  Legends  of  Japan.  (N.  Y.,  1912.) 

Consult  also  Joly,  Henri  L.  Legend  in  Japanese  Art. 
(London,  1908.) 

91.  Leland,  Charles  G.    Kuloskap,  the  Master.    (New  York, 


92.  Thiselton-Dyer,  Thomas  F.     English  Folklore.     (Lon- 


don,  1878.)  Consult  also  his  Folk-lore  of  Plants,  and 
his  Folk  Lore  of  Shakespeare. 

93.  Firdausi.     The    Shah    Nameh:     Atkinson's    Translation. 

(London,  1886.) 

94.  Plutarch.    Lives:   Camillus,  Romulus,  Alexander,  Etc. 

95.  Transactions  of  the  Society  of  Biblical  Archeology,  Vol. 

viii,  p.  80. 

96.  Bombaugh,  C.  C.     Gleanings  from  the  Harvest-Fields  of 

Literature.     (Baltimore,  1873.) 

97.  Leland,    Charles     G.       Etruscan    Roman    Remains    in 

Popular  Tradition.     (London,  1892.) 

98.  Fiske,  John.     Myths  and  Myth-Makers.     (Boston,  1872.) 

99.  Keith,   George.     Letters:    in  Les  Bourgeis  de  la  Com- 

pagnie  du  Nord-Ouest.     (Quebec,  1889.) 

100.  Niblack,  Albert  P.  Report  U.  S.  National  Museum,  1888. 

101.  Nelson,  Edward  W.    Birds  of  Bering  Sea  and  the  Arctic 

Ocean.     (Washington,  1883.) 

102.  Schoolcraft,  Henry  G.    Algic  Researches.     (New  York, 


103.  Adams,  A.  Leith.    Field  and  Forest  Rambles.     (London, 


104.  Mooney,  James.     Report  U.  S.  Bureau  Ethnology,  Vol. 

XIX,  1897-8,  p.  401. 

105.  Grinnell,     George     Bird.      Pawnee    Hero-Stories    and 

Folk-Tales.     (New  York,  1889.) 

106.  Fortier,    Alce.      Stories   and    Folk-Tales.      (New   York, 

1889).    Also,  Louisiana  Folk-Tales.     (Boston,  1885.) 

107.  Jameson,  Mrs.   Anna  B.     History  of  our  Lord  as  Ex- 

emplified in  Works  of  Art.  (London,  1872).  See  also 
her  Legends  of  the  Monastic  Orders  (1872),  and  her 
Sacred  and  Legendary  Art  (1911). 

108.  Verrall,  Margaret  de  G.    Mythology  and  Monuments  of 

Ancient  Athens.     (London,  1890.) 

109.  Diodorus  Siculus.     Historical  Library. 

no.  Villari,   Pasquale.     The   Barbarian   Invasion   of   Italy. 

(New  York,  1902.) 
in.  Fox-Davies,   Arthur   C.     Complete   Guide   to   Heraldry. 

(London,  1909.) 

112.  Perrot  and  Chipiez.    History  of  Art  in  Antiquity:    Vol. 

IV,  Sardinia  and  Judea. 

113.  Seal  of  the  United  States:    How  it  was  Developed  and 

Adopted.     (Washington,  Department  of  State,  1892.) 


Abbey,  founded  by  birds,  269 
Adjutant  Stork,  stone  in  head  of, 

Aetites,  or  eagle-stone,  96 
Albatross,  raft -nest  of,  76 
Alectorius,  a  magic  stone,  95 
Alectromancy,  217 
American  eagle,  36 
Ani,  or  Black  Witch,  see  Jumbie- 

Anka,  mythical  bird,  198 
Arabian  mythical  birds,  193,  196 
Ark,  messengers  from  the,  99 
Arthur,  King,  becomes  a  raven, 

Arvenus,  legend  of  Lake,  78 
Asbestos,  a  bird's  skin,  195 
Augury  and  Auspice  defined,  214 

Babes  in  the  Wood,  story,  116 
Bennu,  a  sun-symbol,  195 
Bestiaries  described,  58 
Bird-myths,  origin  of,  226,  253 
Bird-of -Paradise,  legends  of,  63 
Bird-superstitions  rare  in  United 

States,  7 
Birds,  alleged  hibernation  of,  89 
Birds  as  "  Openers, "  240-253 
Birds  as  pilots,  161 
Birds  as  spirits,  10,  25,  189 
Birds  associated  with  monks  and 

hermits,  262-271 
Birds  becoming  gods,  18 

Birds  changing  into  other  birds, 

Birds    connected    with    Light- 
ning, 242-253 
Birds,  fabulous,  explained,  202, 

208,  226 
Birds,  lucky  and  unlucky,  25 
Birds  of  Assyrian  seals,  202 
Birds  of  the  Bosphorus,  16 
Birds  riding  on  bigger  birds,  81 
Birds  transport  souls,  190 
Birds,  variety  of  accounted  for, 

Bittern,  breast-light  of,  79 
Blackbird,  red  winged,  239 
Blackbirds  blackened  by  Raven, 

Blackbirds  once  white,  233 
Bluebird,  mountain,  23,  240 
Blue  jay,  legend  of,  240 
Bluejay  visits  the  Devil,  166 
Brahminy  duck,  sacred  in  Thi- 
bet, 18 
Buffon  denies  song  to  American 

birds,  78 
Bulbul,  Persian  nightingale,  48 
Butcher-bird,   alleged  trick  of, 

Buzzard,    turkey,    features    of, 
227,  236,  241,  284 

Chickens  as  weather-prophets, 




Chickens  used  in  augury,  216, 

Chimney  swift,   Josselyn's   ac- 
count of,  62 
Chouans,  named  from  owl's  cry, 

Cinamros,  Persian  myth,  205 
Cock,  alectorius  of,  96 
Cock,  as  Gaulish  emblem,  44 
Cock,  barnyard,  a  sun-bird,  218 
Cock,  Christian  legends  of,  109, 


Cock,  stoned  on  Shrove  Tues- 
day, 123 

Cormorants,  legends  of,  228,  231 

Cranes  carry  away  girl,  237 

Crane's  foot,  origin,  170 

Cranes   transport   small  birds, 

Cranes  war  with  Pygmies,  94 
Crocodile -bird,  legend  of,  60 
Crossbill,   Christian  legend  of, 

Crow,  Chinese  three-legged,  172 
Crow,  formerly  white,  233 
Crow,  hooded,  dread  of,  165 
Crow  in  Ghost  Dance,  176 
Crow,  omens  from,  213 
Crows'-feet  at  eyes,  170 
Crows  visit  the  Devil,  166 
Cuckoos  as  rain-prophets,  223 
Cupid  of  the  Gaels,  3 
Curassow,  legend  of,  170 

David  beguiled  by  a  pigeon,  259 
Deluges,  birds  connected  with, 

Demonic  birds,  52,  205 
Devil's  birds,  166 

Direction,    element   in    divina- 
tion, 8,  175,  213 
Divination  by  birds,   212-217; 

trifled  with,  257,  258 
Dove  and  the  Holy  Grail,  137 
Dove  as  bird  of  peace,  140 
Dove,  Christian  legends  of,  113, 

Dove  guides  Cortez's  ship,  138 
Dove  instructs  Pope  Gregory, 

Dove  of  St.  Remi,  133,  137 
Dove,  revered  in  Islam,  135 
Dove  saves  Genghis  Khan,  141 
Dove  sent  from  the  Ark,  101 
Dove,  symbol  of  Holy  Ghost, 

133,  134,  138 
Dove,  symbol  of  Ishtar,  127-132 
Doves  at  Dodona,  130 
Doves  in  Jewish  sacrifice,  140 
Doves  in  Solomonic  legends,  259 
Doves,  prophetic,  5-9 

Eagle,  doubleheaded,  29,  33,  52 
Eagle,  emblem  of  St.  John,  149 
Eagle,  golden,  or  war,  24,  35 
Eagle,  imperial,  30 
Eagle-lecterns,  origin  of,  149 
Eagle,  legends  of,  97 
Eagle,  Mexican  harpy,  38 
Eagle,  myths  about,  68,  73,  76 
Eagle  of  Lagash,  28 
Eagles,  omens  from,  213 
Eagle-stone,  or  aetites,  96 
Easter  eggs,  customs  explained, 

Eggs  in  mosques  and  churches, 

Eskimo  bird-tales,  273,  274 



Fairies  traced  to  Morrigu,  165 
Falcon,  symbolism  of,  1 50 
Feng-whang.     See  Fung-whang. 
Fish-hawk,  legend  of,  80 
France,  popular  emblem  of,  41- 

Franklin    compares    eagle    and 

turkey,  37 
Fung-whang,  Chinese  myth,  207 

Garuda,  Hindoo  myth,  206 
Gaul,  name  explained,  41 
Genghis  Khan  saved  by   owl, 

Ghost  Dance  explained,  177 
Goatsuckers,  cries  of  dreaded,  6, 


Goldfinch,  Christian  legend  of, 

Goose  and  golden  eggs,  66 
Goose-bone  fable,  222 
Goose,  golden  Capitoline,  255 
Goose  growing  on  trees,  64 
Goose  in  Buddhist  myth,  67 
Grebe,  legend  of,  240 
Green  fowl,  Mohammedan,  1 5 
Grouse,  marks  on  ruffed,  238 
Guan,  legend  of,  107 
Guatemala,  emblem  of,  39 
Guillemots,  origin  of,  237 
Gulls  offend  Giant,  234 

Hair,  superstitions  about,  9 
Halcyon  days,  meaning  of,  22 
Harpies,  Sirens,  etc.,  193 
Hibernation  of  birds,  89 
Ho-ho,  Japanese  myth,  208 
Hoopoe,  legends  of,  153,  250,  261 
Hornbill,  superstitions  about,  16 

Hummingbird,   hibernation   of, 

Hummingbird,  riding  a  crane,  81 
Hummingbird,  voice  lost,  241 

Indian  poetic  story,  275-279 

Jackdaw  of  Rheims,  157 
Jay,  Canada,  gives  warning,  4 
Jumbie-bird,     Ani,     or     Black 
Witch,  189 

Kamar,  Persian  myth,  206 
Karshipta,  Persian  myth,  206 
King,  choice  of  by  birds,  82,  206 
Kingbird,  riding  a  hawk,  81 
Kingfisher,   halcyon  myth,    20, 

Kingfisher,  sent  from  the  Ark, 

Kiskadee,  legend  of,  239 
Kite,  Egyptian  legend  of,  151 

Lapwing  and  Covenanters,  256 
Lark,  Laverock,  funereal,  115 
Legend,  definition  of,  254 
Lightning  attributed  to  birds, 

Loon,  origin  of  its  cry,  279 
Lucky  birds,  25 

Macaw  as  fire-bird,  41 
Magpie,  portents  by,  171 
Mexico,  national  emblem,  38 
Migrating  birds  carried  by  oth- 
ers, 81-88 
Migration  to  the  moon,  91 
Moccasin  flower  legend,  6 



Monks,  medieval  and  birds,  262- 

Morrigu  and  her  crows,  165 

Nightingale,  myths  and  legends, 

48,  50 

Number,  important  in  divina- 
tion, 8,  171 

Nuns  of  Whitby,  88 

Odin's  ravens,  150 

Omens  trifled  with,  257,  258 

Ornithomancy,  origin  of,  5 

Osage  Indians,  bird  ancestry,  1 1 

Osprey,  legend  of,  80 

Ostrich  eggs,  use  of,  54 

Ostrich,  errors  pertaining  to,  54 

Ostrich  plumes,  symbolism,  153 

Owein's  ravens,  162 

Owl,  a  Baker's  daughter,  121 

Owl  a  monarch's  daughter,  183 

Owl,  Athenian,  180 

Owl  in  medieval  medicine,  185 

Owl  once  a  singer,  112 

Owl  once  an  Eskimo  girl,  233 

Owl  saves  heroes,  186,  258 

Owls,  Christian  legends  of,  121 

Owls,  superstitions  about,  181, 

187,  213,  258 
Oystercatcher,  why  blessed,  1 1 2 

Palm,   associated  with  phenix, 

Paradise-birds,  63,  64 
Peacock  feathers,  indicate  rank, 

Peacock,  feathers,  superstitions, 


Peacock,  saves  Chinese  general, 

Peacocks,  legends  of,  141-147 
Pelican,  errors  pertaining  to,  58 
Pelican,  Seri  ancestor,  1 1 
Pelican,  symbolism  of,  147 
Pharaoh's  chicken,  34 
Pheasant,  Argus,  painted,  233 
Phenix  as  a  Christian  symbol, 

Phenix  described,  191 
Pigeons  in  church  feasts,  125 
Pigeons  of  Venice,  125 
Pigeon  shrine  near  Yarkand,  136 
Polynesian  bird-gods,  19 

Quails,  Israelitish  legend,  93 
Quetzal-bird,  39 

Rabbit  and  Easter  eggs,  1 24 
Rain -birds  described,  223 
Rara  avis  (swan),  46 
Raven  as  culture-hero,  228-234 
Raven,  characteristics  of,  134 
Raven,  Dickens's  "Grip,"  156 
Raven  dresses  the  birds,  228 
Raven  feeds  Elijah,  158 
Raven  feeds  hermits,  164 
Raven  flag  of  Danes,  159 
Raven,  ghostly,  164 
Raven,  Mosaic  view  of,  1 58 
Raven,   myths  concerning,    72, 

105,  248 
Raven  once  white,  168,  232 
Raven,  portents  by,   169,   173, 

Raven  saves  body  of  St.  Vin- 
cent, 164 
Raven  sent  from  the  Ark,  100 



Raven's   Hill   and   Barbarossa, 

Ravens,  Odin's  messengers,  159 
Redbreast,  Christian  legends  of, 

Redbreast  covers  corpses,  116 
Redpoll,  bringing  fire,  274 
Rhea,  errors  concerning,  55 
Robin,  American,  singing,  282 
Robin,     European.       See  Red- 
Roc  (Rukh),  Sinbad's  discovery, 

Sacred  birds  explained,  16,  24 
Sagehen,  Paiute  story  of,  106 
Salamander  as  a  bird,  196 
Scapegoats  among  birds,  25 
Scarlet  bird  of  Taoists,  207 
Schamir,  Solomonic  legend,  249 
Seal  of  United  States,  36 
Semiramis,  story  of,  128 
Sentinel-birds,   stories   of,    254, 

Seven  Whistlers,  13,  89 
Shrike,  errors  regarding,  79 
Shrove  Tuesday  customs,  123 
Simurgh,  Persian  myth,  205 
Smell,  sense  in  birds,  75 
Snow-owl  blackens  raven,  232 
Souls  brought  by  birds,  12 
Souls  carried  away  by  birds,  13, 

139,  148 
Sparrow   in   Christian   legends, 

Speech  by  birds,  3,  10,  13 
Stones  possessed  by  birds,  95 
Stork,  as  a  migrant,  92 
Stork,  legends  of,  112,  153 

Stymphalia,  birds  of,  192,  194 
Swallow,  Eskimo  origin  of,  238 
Swallow   in   Christian   legends, 

Swallow,  omens  from,  25,  213, 

Swallow  restores  blindness,  96 
Swan,  black  (rara  avis),  47 
Swan,  death  song,  76 
Swan,  omens  from,  213 
Symplegades,  legend  of,  131 

Thibetan  divination,  174 
Thunder-birds   described,    243- 

248,  281 
Thunder  Cape,  name  explained, 

Trochilus  legend,  60 
Trogon,  or  quetzal -bird,  39 
Trumpeter,  legends  of,  107,  239 
Tulare,  legend  of  lake,  108 
Turkey,  Franklin's  preference, 

Turkey,  Indian  legend  of,  106 

Vulture,  baldness  explained,  227, 

236,  241 
Vulture,  omens  from,  213 
Vulture  revered  in  Egypt,  151 
Vultures,  Persian,  207 
Vulture,  Turkey.     See  Buzzard. 

Wagtail,  Ainu  legend  of,  103 
War-eagle,    American    Indian, 

Weathercocks  explained,  151 
Weather  prognostics  by  birds, 

217,  219,  282 



Whippoorwill    as    a    prophet, 

Winds  as  birds,  203,  206,  249 
Woodpecker,  Calif oraian,  281 
Woodpecker,  magical  powers  of, 


Woodpecker,  redheaded,  23, 106, 

235,  241 
Wren,  Cherokee  story  of,  282 
Wren,  hunting  of  in  Ireland,  118 

Yel,  culture-hero,  230 


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